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Person-centered care: What is it & why does it matter?

The term ‘person-centered’ care has been around since the 60’s and has evolved into a specific approach to wellbeing, care, prevention, and support. But before we talk about what exactly it is and why is matters – let’s talk about what person-centered care is not.

Geoffrey* reached his golden years in relatively good health – a few aches and pains and slower and weaker than he was in his prime – but he looked forward to many more active years ahead. When his wife of 52 years passed, Geoffrey’s health and wellbeing started to show signs of strain. He wasn’t much of a cook and wasn’t eating well. He also struggled to keep up with the housework and personal hygiene.


It wasn’t long until Geoffrey caught pneumonia and his children started considering options for after he was discharged from hospital. Without asking Geoffrey, his family found him a place at a retirement home 40 minutes away from his home of over 30 years. His belongings were packed up, sold, or given to charity. Geoffrey moved in with a suitcase, a few pieces of furniture, some framed photos, and a few personal belongings.


Even after a few months of adjustment, Geoffrey was unhappy. He hated having to fit in with the meal schedule. He didn’t want to get up at 7am or eat dinner at 5pm. They didn’t offer the porridge he ate every morning for decades. He also liked his tea strong with a touch of milk and no sugar, but the staff poured sweet, pre-made milky tea out of a jug – no exceptions.


He had to see the home’s doctors and nurses, after having built a relationship with his GP over many years. Geoffrey missed his wife, the life they’d built and the home they made together. He missed his favourite meals and a half a glass of wine with some crisps every night at happy hour. He became depressed and withdrawn.


It’s no surprise that Geoffrey’s mental and physical health declined rapidly. Although the staff were caring and friendly, it still felt as though he was living in their workplace. Abiding by rules and systems and schedules that were designed to manage the staff and residents. It just didn’t feel like home, and he was stuck there.


The person-centered difference

Simply put, person-centered care focuses on the individual. For carers, care agencies, retirement villages and care homes, healthcare professionals and others involved in elderly care, it means carrying out your role in a manner that respects the individual and enables them to live the life they want to live.


The four pillars of person-centered care are:

  1. affording people dignity, compassion, and respect

  2. offering coordinated care, support, or treatment

  3. offering personalised care, support, or treatment

  4. supporting people to recognise and develop their own strengths and abilities to enable them to live an independent and fulfilling life

In our real-life example, Geoffrey should have been treated as an equal partner when considering options for his future. His needs, preferences and values should have guided decisions in a manner that was responsive and respectful.


Respecting the right to choose

Given the choice, most seniors – like Geoffrey - want to spend their golden years living in their own home. Although he was battling to adjust after his wife’s passing, a decline in his health could have been prevented if he had the right kind of support and care that he needed to maintain his independence.


A compassionate, trained carer could have popped in with groceries and/or cooked a few light meals to ensure he was eating well. A bit of light housework and a cup of tea a few times a week were perhaps all Geoffrey needed to stay connected to his community and live a healthy life on his own terms.


These small acts of care and compassion make an enormous difference to anyone’s life. In everyday terms it means being given a choice of what to eat at mealtimes. It means being able to decide when to get up in the morning and go to bed at night. It means choosing what you want to wear, where you want to go that day and what healthcare professionals you want to see. These are choices that we all want to make for ourselves as adults, and even more so as an Elder.


Why person-centered care is important?

Now that we’ve established what person-centered care is, we couldn’t help but touch on the difference between person-centered care and typical Elder care. For care homes or families considering the future of elderly family members, it’s a fundamental shift in thinking and culture whereby everyone works in partnership to achieve wellbeing, prevention, care, and support.


I once heard the manager of a prominent retirement home that embraced and practiced person-centered care say that: “You don’t live in our workplace; we work in your home.” It was a commitment to the residents, not a management style that put the roster first.


There’s evidence to show that when person-centered care is practiced, patient outcomes are improved, health episodes can be prevented, and the frequency and cost of healthcare visits reduced. Happiness and state of mind play a huge role in the cognitive and emotional functioning of precious Elders who still have many years of living left.


If you want to maintain your dignity, independence and quality of life then consider early-intervention home care and companionship. It can (and has!) made the world of difference to the Elders in our care.


If you want to find out more about person-centered care at the CareCompany, drop us an email and one of our Regional Managers from across South Africa will call you back.

*Names have been changed

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