Attributes of an Advocate

Posted on November 24th, 2010

Categories: Active Senior Living,Aging Advocacy,Caring For Elderly

In personal relationships, such as marriage and friendship, we look for certain attributes that we have identified as qualities we admire or value. Even in business relationships, such as with our doctor, lawyer, banker, and even our hairdresser, we look for characteristics that are connected to our personal belief system; people we believe we can trust to do the “right thing.” Yet as we grow older, we often choose our advocate, the person who will be our voice when we are unable to speak for ourselves, based on something other than the specific traits needed to be effective in that role. We chose someone for this important job based on placement in the family, proximity to where we live, or we allow our advocate to be chosen for us by not choosing one.

“Choose your advocate with the same thoughtful consideration you would choose any one to represent you,” suggests Deborah Dolan, Advocate on Aging. “Make a list of traits that you would want a person to possess in order to be the best representative of you.” Qualities Deborah has found in strong advocates include compassion, insight, understanding, courage, confidence, warmth, responsiveness, and empathy.

According to Deborah, these qualities are necessary in the face of sudden, difficult decisions, such as medical treatment, financial responsibility, and daily care. As we grow older, a change or a crisis often looms around the corner; one which won’t give us time to think through a plan of action. We need someone who is able and willing to understand the issue and to act in a way that is compatible with our personal beliefs. We need someone who will metaphorically “step into our shoes” and understand how we would want to proceed. That trait is called empathy and not everyone has developed it, but Deborah feels it can be learned. She believes empathy will come only with a strong desire and concentrated effort to learn to place one’s self in another person’s situation. You must act according to that person’s wishes, not on your own desires.

When the time comes for you to name a personal representative, someone to speak on your behalf if you are unable to speak for yourself, make sure you think about the personal characteristics of the potential candidates. Think beyond who they are and consider what knowledge, skills and abilities they have that would make one of them the right advocate for you.

On the other hand, if you are asked to be a caregiver or a power of attorney, ask yourself if you possess the personal attributes necessary to do the job effectively. Be honest with yourself. Are you are the best person for the job? Are you compassionate, empathetic, and supportive? Do you have the courage to make decisions for another person?

This isn’t an easy choice, but a very important one. Make sure you select the best person for the job. Conversely, be sure you are the best person to represent another person’s interest. Some very important decisions lie in the hands of an advocate.

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