Longer life spans shifting focus toward dignity, quality of life

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Posted: Monday, May 28, 2012 8:00 pm

(ARA) - The life expectancy for average Americans is longer than ever before - 78 years for a child born in 2007 versus 71 who was born in 1970, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That's the good news, and it's been evolving over decades. Until recently, however, that positive change has come with a less happy corollary: More aging Americans are entering long-term care facilities, where they cope with basic issues of dignity such as incontinence, and independence, like the ability to choose their own waking and meal times.

The need to address the issues of dignity and independence is spurring change in the health care and extended care communities.

"With people living so much longer, a sea change is occurring in the health care community, and especially among providers of extended care," says Dan Love, president of the personal care division for Medline Industries, Inc. "The focus is shifting away from simply extending life and toward a greater emphasis on enhancing quality and maintaining dignity in the later years of life."

To better preserve the dignity of those in long-term care, a culture change movement is afoot in long-term care facilities, which is good news for older Americans. Today's long-term care facilities are transforming services for older adults through better attention to patient-directed values that include choice, dignity, respect, self-determination and purposeful living, according to the Pioneer Network, a not-for-profit advocacy group.

"The resident-centered care in long-term care encompasses nearly every aspect of life, from simple things like incontinence products that fit properly, to allowing residents to determine when they would like to get up in the morning and have dinner at night," Love says. "These changes focus on preserving an individual's dignity and autonomy as much as possible."

In fact, incontinence is a good example of a simple, yet pervasive need that directly impact's an individual's sense of dignity. More than half of all nursing home residents are incontinent, and it's the second leading cause of institutionalization, according to the National Association for Incontinence. Yet in the past, incontinence products have been little more than extra-large diapers that did little to preserve an individual's dignity.

Demand for better fitting products prompted Medline to develop a new design in adult briefs. FitRight provides a more comfortable, garment-like fit, with odor protection and leak guards that enhance the wearer's dignity, mobility and independence. Visit www.medline.com/pages/fitright to learn more about incontinence products.

"By switching to better-fitting, discreet and more absorbent incontinence products, facilities have taken steps toward mitigating the embarrassing effects of this issue," Love says. "It's a good example of how facilities are emphasizing the need to listen to - and respond - to residents' needs and concerns."

With Americans living longer, that means there will be a lot more of them. About 13 percent of the population (nearly 40 million people) are 65 or older, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. By 2030, that number is expected to rise to 72 million, or nearly one in five Americans; and the need for quality extended care facilities and products like FitRight will almost certainly rise with that number.

If you need to seek extended care for a loved one, the Pioneer Network offers some advice on how to evaluate whether a facility is on board with, and acting on, the concept of patient-directed care. The organization recommends you ask these questions:

* How will they get to know your family member? - The facility may have a questionnaire to gather information about your loved one, and should be prepared to spend time with you and the patient to learn about their preferences, past, current interests, goals and wishes for the future.

* Will your family member be able to choose his or her own wake-up and meal times?

* Will your loved one be able to choose to have a shower or bath, and when that will happen?

* What recreational activities will be available?

"Every day, we're learning more about how to extend life," Love says. "Now, the challenge is to ensure that extra time is lived with the most dignity and best quality possible. Extended care facilities are finding that they can achieve that goal, often by taking some of the simplest steps."

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