Frontline Initiative Later Life Supports
What DSPs should know, an interview with David Liscomb
When Frontline Initiative approached David about an interview on the topic of aging and what Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) should know, he shared a story that relates to universal concerns of growing older. These include dealing with changes and loss, adjusting to retirement, and maintaining financial security. In this article, David demonstrates leadership and advocacy by sharing his important insights and experiences.
A number years ago, I was living with my best friend, John (name has been changed). John and I had been roommates, sharing an apartment and everyday life together for 20 years. John began suffering from Alzheimer’s and other health problems. One day, the agency suddenly moved John to a healthcare facility. The agency didn’t tell me this was going to happen. I had no clue my friend of 20 years was going to leave. I had no way of visiting him. I also couldn’t afford to live in my apartment alone. No one said, “Here are some options, here are choices.” One case manager suggested that I take out ads in a newspaper for a new roommate — but that takes money. On my own, I found an apartment I could afford. But I still missed my friend. It was affecting my work; I just couldn’t keep my chin up. Thankfully, I had a vocational counselor who noticed and asked me what was wrong. She was the first person who opened the door and allowed me to talk about all that had happened and how I was feeling. Once I started to share my feelings, the agency started to help. They made arrangements so that I could visit John, spend time with him and keep our friendship alive.
Why do you think the staff didn’t prepare you for the changes that would be coming with John, your friendship, and your living arrangement?
David: I don’t think DSPs and other staff really appreciate we’re all getting older and that changes come with aging. They take it for granted that things will remain the same. But they don’t remain the same. In my case, I can’t do some of the things today that I could 20 years ago. Or I can’t do them in the same way or as quickly. We need to be able to talk about that reality and prepare for that reality by exploring choices and options that will be suitable for the changes when they come.
What are some of the age-related changes and challenges you face?
David: Recently, I’ve developed heart problems and am on medications. I get tired easily and it’s harder to get up and going in the morning. I just don’t have that same level of energy. So that means I have to adjust my work schedule somewhat, which also means the schedule of supports I receive at home has to change. I’m also in my mid-60s and don’t plan on working all my life. I’m looking forward to retirement — to those days when I can go to the Farmer’s Market when I want, do volunteer work with a group of my choosing, and go out to dinner with friends in the evenings. This means I will have to start planning different levels and schedules of support than the ones I currently have.
What advice do you have for DSPs in facing the reality of aging?
David: First and foremost, talk! Aging brings changes. It is important that people know it’s OK to talk about the feelings they are experiencing about those changes. Talking opens up the door to exploring options and possibilities. Secondly, I’d advise that people look at their circles of support. As one ages, matures and enters new stages of life, one’s circle of support should also evolve and include people who can really be of assistance in taking advantage of the new opportunities and overcoming some of the new problems.
Finally, treat the person who is aging as an individual and with dignity. Involve him or her in everything, in all discussions, in all decisions, give him or her choices, including in end of life planning.
Tom Harmon supported development of this article. He serves as a FI Editorial Board member and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org