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The Risks of Fearing Risk.

Dancing WomenI recently went on a trip to Cuba with 110 members of my New Hampshire-based women’s chorus, Voices From The Heart. Participants ranged in age from early twenties to mid-seventies. It was a treat to watch the latter be just as willing as the former to try everything from octopus ceviche to salsa dancing to strolling with the locals along the Malecon after midnight. I thought of that experience when I listened to this video clip of geriatrician Dr. Bill Thomas speaking about the concepts of “upside” and “downside” risk at the 2010 Green House Project meeting. (The Green House Project is committed to creating a world that honors and supports a positive elderhood through a radical transformation of long term care.)

Thomas defines risk as “an outcome that’s different than you expected”. Downside risk, the fear that things will turn out worse than expected, is something we’re all too familiar with. What we rarely consider is upside risk—the possibility that things will turn out better than expected.

Thomas argues that too often in planning for care for elders, the experts and families all too often focus on downside risk at the expense of upside risk. The result is that by being overly protective, we are actually preventing elders from having outcomes that are better than expected, thus reducing their ability to grow and thrive. (I suspect that this same obsession with downside risk could be having a similarly negative affect on today’s kids.)

Everyone wants their elders to be safe. But it could be that too safe is just as deleterious as not safe enough. According to Thomas, normal lives should include a “balance of upside and downside risk”. I suspect that as Boomers and active seniors like my Cuba companions age into the need for long term care, the facilities and home care companies that strike the right balance between these types of risk will be the ones most likely to succeed. Bring on that ceviche and salsa music!

– Written by Lynn Schweikart

-posted by Laura Willis

Labels: downside risk upside risk, care for elders, elders, long term care, home care companies