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Caring in Community

interdependence1What does it mean to be part of a community? What does it look like when we care for each other, together? Are our practices of caring together in community aligned with our shared goals? What are the ways in which we regularly achieve the goal of caring together in community, and what needs our attention?  LifePath has been thinking about these questions, and we are hosting a Community Forum on Tuesday, December 1 from 2 p.m.-3:30 p.m. to talk more about it, together. The Forum will take place via Zoom, and we appreciate and encourage community participation. The Forum will also be recorded and aired on AOTV for those who are able to watch later.

We recognize that most of us are receiving care and providing care throughout our lives, and that the levels of giving and receiving care change throughout the lifespan and according to our needs, strengths, and abilities.

Our ethical commitment to care means that we appreciate the moral significance of caregiving and receiving care; that for LifePath, supporting care and caregiving is part of how our agency defines itself and our sense of what is right. We recognize that most of us are receiving care and providing care throughout our lives, and that the levels of giving and receiving care change throughout the lifespan and according to our needs, strengths, and abilities. We want to highlight how all care relationships are situated in social connections and that providing care and receiving care serves to meet the needs of everyone. We remind ourselves when considering these relationships that social connectedness is essential for individual and community well-being. 

Our forum will focus on what it means to make these commitments as an organization working within various communities. We want to think together about our partners: individuals, family, friends, neighbors, faith-based communities, hospice organizations, home care providers, Meals on Wheels drivers, doctors, therapists, hospitals, pharmacists, public safety and first responders, Councils on Aging, and adult protective services. We want to think carefully and critically, together, about what is actually happening when a member of our community is going without essential care. What is happening in these scenarios, how do we understand the role of community, and how do we care together, in response?

As a member of the protective services team at LifePath, and one of the hosts of the forum, I am looking forward to talking more about our role, and the ways that we are working to honor our role as part of a community of care. We are often in the position of responding when there is a report about a concern for the health, safety, and well-being of a community member. Our response is intended in part to assess both resilience and risk. Whenever possible, this is a co-assessment, accounting for the role of community and various partners in caring together. We seek to understand the experience and perspectives of these partners and the older adults for whom there is a concern. 

This is a challenge, and also a perfect example of why we must conceive of caregiving as expansive, multi-dimensional, and multi-directional. We want to take this opportunity here, and during the forum, to discuss the ways that Protective Services seeks to understand the experience of caregivers. We hope to clarify what the word “neglect” means, to explore the complicated lives of caregivers, to support the elements of caregiving that are fulfilling for all parties, and to find solutions where needs are met and well-being is supported. This is how we ensure an ethic of care in our work, and we look forward to talking more about it with you.  

We would be remiss if we didn’t state clearly and unequivocally here that abuse is not caused by burnout. However, we want to know when the demands on a caregiver are simply too great, when caregiving is so taxing that any benefit brought to either person is overshadowed by the challenges.  We also seek to acknowledge and address the ways that our experience being cared for impacts our skills and emotional readiness to provide care. The complicated and sometimes fraught family dynamics born of decades of dancing back and forth with each other in the roles of care providers and caregivers are important for community partners to understand. Our role is to alleviate risk in order to  support older adults’ self-determination and the well-being of our community. We seek to address concerns and to find ways to meet unmet needs, not with putative measures, but by enlisting the help and support of diverse and compassionate partners, each of us committed to caring in the community. 

During the fall and winter holiday season, we are often in the position of having contact with family members that we don’t see regularly.  This is a time of year where you may typically have visits, contact with family, friends, and religious communities, and many opportunities for social connection—but this season will not be typical.  As visiting family members, or neighbors helping to care for each other during a holiday season with fewer visitors due to COVID-19, you may have concerns about the care needs of your loved ones. As an older adult, you may be concerned about how to navigate COVID precautions, family dynamics, and/or loneliness and isolation. As caregivers, you may be balancing the benefits of being together with safety, lack of childcare, and inability to travel. We want to hear from you anytime, but particularly if you have concerns about older adults in your life given what you observe at a holiday gathering, during preparations or discussions for gathering safely, and/or as a result of not being able to check in on vulnerable family and friends as you normally would. Leaders in religious communities or organizers of holiday community meals may be particularly well-suited to identify those of us that may be going without essential connections and check-ins. 

As always, you can call and speak with a member of our staff at any time by calling 413-773-5555 or 978-544-2259. We encourage you to join us for our third LifePath community forum. Please register for the virtual forum.