Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a framework that generalizes the needs that a person must meet to self-actualize. What is self-actualization? It’s the desire to become everything one is capable of becoming1. A person who self-actualizes may experience life with an overwhelming sense of joy, have a thirst for learning, and try new things.
How can someone experience life with an overwhelming sense of joy if he is starving? According to Maslow, he can’t. According to Maslow, that person will only be able to concentrate on one thing: food. Maslow’s theory is that people must fulfill lower-level needs before being able to suffice their higher-level needs. Below is a graphic of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs1:
You can think of each tier as a bucket; however to move to the next tier—starting from the bottom—one does not need to fill his or her bucket 100%. Each person is different by how full his or her bucket needs to be in order to concentrate on the next tier up1. As people begin to focus on higher tiers within the pyramid, they move towards self-actualizing, which is closely associated with life-satisfaction and happiness.
Your aging loved one may not be happy and this pyramid may help you understand why. Is she getting enough food, is she safe, does she have friends to hang out with? Work your way up the pyramid and determine if there is something missing in your loved one’s life. Then think about a possible solution.
Caregivers and senior living communities can do a great job fulfilling the physiological, safety, and sense of belonging needs. Arguably, they can help your loved one’s self-esteem too. While I wouldn’t dare to say that caregivers and senior living communities will completely fill the buckets of the bottom three needs, I will say that they make a good effort to do so. According to Maslow theory, if a caregiver or senior living community only partially fills the bottom three buckets, then that person’s circumstances will be better off than they were before.
Do what you can to improve your loved one’s life. You don’t need to try to fill each of his or her buckets completely. According to Maslow, only about 2% of the population self-actualizes in their lifetimes. People can go in and out of self-actualization as they age too. Traumatic life events may bring someone out of self-actualization while other life events may motivate them to be all they can. No matter where someone is in his or her life, Maslow’s pyramid remains a useful object for us to turn to whenever we are trying to assess the direction of our lives2. Do your best to fill each of these buckets as much as you can.
You may think that hiring a caregiver or moving into a senior living community may sound great in theory, but you’re still concerned about the costs. Don’t be. Talk to a senior advisor; he or she may be able to put you in touch with programs that will help subsidize your loved one’s expenses and even protect you from paying anything out of pocket. County, state, and federal governments understand that aging loved ones can be a stressor on the family, which causes disruption in other parts of society as well. There are many public programs to help relieve the burdens that fall on families. Talk to a senior advisor and he or she may be able to help you create a plan that will bring you peace of mind.