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Get your priorities straight

An important step in planning goals related to needs is to develop a "laundry list" of problems

In my previous column, we met Mr. Tinsel and discussed the importance of goal-setting as it relates to continued independence.

If you missed the column, you can find it online at

The seniors and family members I meet in my work all have unique circumstances leading up to a life transition. A common denominator is feeling overwhelmed and having difficulty prioritizing the "real" needs and/or wants.

An important step in planning goals related to needs is to develop a "laundry list" of problems. Usually, there are several problems.

This is where figuring out priorities is a must. How do you decide which goal comes first or if more than one are being worked on, which one deserves the most attention?

The best determinant in setting and reaching a goal is one where the senior and/or family caregiver sees as most important.

Secondary is breaking down the goal in manageable pieces to make it easy to accomplish.

Let's take a look at Mr. Tinsel's situation.

During our initial assessment, Mr. Tinsel talked about two important needs — getting around without a car and not feeling so lonely by getting back to some of his previous social groups, namely bowling.

Noteworthy is goal attainment can be a long process and may take months to complete. There also needs to be strong motivation from the individual.

When we asked Mr. Tinsel to be more specific about his transportation needs, he said, "I want to be able to get to medical appointments without having to ask friends," and "I want to get to bowling without having to rely on friends to pick me up."

It's pretty clear that Mr. Tinsel enjoys being independent and readily admits himself that asking and taking help is very difficult.

One of the best ways to set goals is to brainstorm a list of possible ways for reaching a goal. This is the list we came up with Mr. Tinsel and his transportation needs:

• Make an appointment with a doctor to discuss a referral to HandyDART and Taxi Savers.

• Ask one friend to be a backup person to drive should HandyDART be unavailable or inclement weather poses difficulty using public transit.

• Map out the public transit route and times.

• Map out the walking distance from Mr. Tinsel's home to the nearest bus stop and practise walking to the stop ahead of time.

• Cost out private transportation options.

• Take the bus to bowling and get a ride back with a friend.

• Give up bowling.

• Pray to have a miraculous change in vision and driving license returned.

The list includes primarily serious strategies for meeting Mr. Tinsel's transportation needs.

From here, Mr. Tinsel needed to choose which strategy to try first to see if it helped him reach his goal. He needed to figure out the "who does what" and "when" of the strategy and the order in which things needed to be done.

In Mr. Tinsel's case, he decided to start with costing out private transportation options and mapping out the public transit route. In the end, he found himself taking private transportation to medical appointments and going the public transit route on bowling days.

If his friends assured him they were going right by his place on the way home, he would sometimes accept a ride.

It's a happy ending. Well, almost — Mr. Tinsel isn't quite happy about his bowling average!

Wendy Johnstone is a gerontologist and is the founder of Keystone Eldercare Solutions. Her column runs in the Comox Valley Record every second Thursday.