Haims column: Some advice for helping aging parents
With the holidays upon us and many families having an opportunity to reunite, I thought this would be a great time to share some information and suggestions on how to assist our aging family members.
I am 51 years old. It’s been over 30 years since I moved out of the state where my parents live. Since, my dad has passed away and Father Time is chasing my mother. Her ailments that had been relatively minor just five years ago, now require much more attention. Managing her care has become a joint effort among my brothers and me. Unfortunately for my younger brother who lives closest to her, much of the responsibility has fallen upon his shoulders.
I want to be there to assist in providing care for my mom. I want to be there to support my brother, allow him some reprieve, and provide him greater time to spend with his wife and children. I know he is fatigued and challenged in juggling time between his children, wife and our mother.
My brothers and I exemplify adult children assisting elder parent(s). Most of my contemporaries are either already, or preparing to be, actively involved in providing some assistance to their parents. Studies indicate that more than 50 percent of Americans with elder parents are assisting their parents with errands, medical concerns/direction and managing housework.
Sharing caregiving responsibilities with family members most often can ease the demands of assisting a loved one. However, coming to an agreement on who does what, when and how, can sometimes add to caregiving stress. Often, if there is a sibling living nearby, they, by default, become the “go-to” caregiver. This can sometimes cause resentment amongst sibling as the out-of-town sibling are not around on a daily basis to see the amount of help that may be required.
In such situations, I often suggest that families develop some sort of journal. In addition to frequent phone calls, my brothers and I use Google Docs to keep an online journal. We share our thoughts and suggestions, and develop tasks for each of us to participate in. As each of our work days differ and the ability to communicate at specified times often gets challenged, an online journal enables each of us to participate and share our thoughts at a time of our choosing.
Collaboration among family members and loved ones helps unite; it reminds us we are always our parents’ child, and it helps establish a relationship within equals.
Understand the needs
While it may be considerably more difficult from afar, it’s often challenging to tell when and how aging may be affecting our aging loved ones. Signs of concern are not always overt and often, our aging loved ones may minimize challenges they may be encountering so as not to worry their family.
By paying attention to your loved ones’ behavior, social interaction (or lack of), hygiene, nutrition, housekeeping and finances, you may gain some insight as to where your efforts could be best used. Once you understand the person’s situation, you can help develop a plan.
When I am invited to a new client’s home for an interview, sometimes the client needs are not always conveyed and transparent. Sometimes, it takes a bit of observation and inquiry to better understand how I can help the family and client. Here are a few things to consider looking for:
• Are rooms well-lit or are there many burnt out light bulbs in need of replacing?
• Is there food in the fridge? Is the food fresh? Are many items beyond the expiration date?
• What is the level of understanding the client has of the medicines they take and what they are for? Are medications well-organized? Are there many expired medication bottles lying around?
• Are bills and the mail organized? Are there many pieces of “junk mail” and solicitations for donations (financial scams)?
• If the client drives, what is their comfort level driving at night and in inclement weather? Are the tires in good shape? Is the auto insurance and registration up to date? Are there dents and scrapes on the car? If so, are they recent?
Don’t be overbearing
As our parents and loved ones get older, the desire to hold on to their independence can be at odds with even the most well-intentioned suggestions from adult children and family members. While we all may want to be cared about and loved, we also may be apprehensive about being cared for.
Coping with the aging of our parents is a life lesson — embrace the lesson. Make whatever time you have left with your parents as positive as possible. Laugh, remember, cry, but above all, show your parents that you love them. It is clearly the greatest gift we have to give each other.
If you will be celebrating the holidays with aging family this year, take a little time to be observant of signs they could use a little extra help.
Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Glenwood Springs, Basalt, Aspen and the surrounding areas. His contact information is, www.visitingangels.com/comtns, 970-328-5526.