Saturday, March 01, 2008

When Mom and Dad Need Help

by Beverly Von Gorder

The task of moving an elderly family member or other loved one from their private home to an assisted living community can be an overwhelming one, even for the stoutest of heart. Everyone wants to maintain their own household as long as possible. No one wants to be reliant on someone else for their basic caretaking needs. Therefore, few ever willingly give up their total independence for the more regimented lifestyle that comes with living in a communal dwelling. The act of doing so can be extremely stress-inducing for the entire family.

Nonetheless, as life progresses, many begin to face health challenges that may create hazards for them if they choose to continue living alone. As children of aging parents, we may feel embarrassed to suggest it is time for Mom or Dad to give up driving, or perhaps Mom shouldn’t cook alone anymore, or Dad isn’t able to get up and down the stairs as well as he once could. It is important that our emotions not override an obvious need for intervention. Slowed reflexes can lead to car accidents, forgetfulness can lead to house fires, and falls can lead to broken hips. Each of these scenarios would be extremely troublesome for those we love, but every one of them potentially could go far beyond “troublesome”, all the way to tragic.

Our parents never would have allowed us to play in the street as five year olds for fear of our getting hit by a car. We must assume a type of reverse parenting role with Mom and Dad when they are older. It is our turn to do all we can to protect them from the dangers of which they may not even be aware. It can be difficult to convince those who raised us that our intentions are truly in their best interest. Consider the alternative.

The best approach seems to be initiating conversations early on regarding the possible need for future assistance. Getting a senior adult to consider the idea well before it is
necessary makes the decision easier in the long run. Waiting until we are in crisis mode to educate ourselves or our senior loved ones about the available alternatives is a recipe for upset stomachs and sleepless nights. Begin before anyone feels threatened by a sense of urgency. No one makes their wisest decisions when under the gun.

Begin your research by consulting families who have already walked this path. Get references for places they visited and into which they eventually moved loved ones. Ask if they would make the same choice if given the option of doing it again. Also, ask the following: What did they learn from the research process?; What do they wish they had known at the beginning of their search?; Are they happy with the accommodations, food, service, care staff, cleanliness, reliability, etc. of the facility they ultimately chose? Getting feedback from others who have “been there, done that” can greatly minimize the time it takes to navigate the many options available. During your research, ask the facilities you visit to provide evidence that no legal actions such as liens or lawsuits have been taken against them. Request Health Department scores for the kitchen and food service.

Conclude the research process by narrowing the possibilities to two or three options. Many more choices will make the decision very overwhelming for the senior adult in need of care. Take the prospective resident to visit the top choices during meal time and allow them to share a meal alongside the residents. Attend a scheduled event or activity. Take part as if already residing in that community. You want to know firsthand that the scheduled activities are actually taking place and that they are mentally stimulating to those involved. Often this will be a great encouragement to a senior as they realize they will have opportunities to take part in pastimes such as bingo, gardening, singing, crafts, exercise or field trips which they have not been able to do while living alone.

Solicit the aid of the administrator, care staff coordinator, or social worker in helping you convince your loved one that this move will be the best thing for them. Prior to the move, invite a staff member to meet your loved one on their own home turf. As a result, during the actual move-in they will see a welcoming, familiar face.

Everyone likes to feel needed. We all want to contribute something positive to the lives of others. Suggest the activities director find a “job” with which they need assistance, one they believe your loved one would enjoy doing. They could request help to distribute prizes after a round of Bingo or song sheets during a music gathering. This will help a new resident feel that they are an important addition to the “family.”

Above all, be strong and do not waver in your decisions in front of them. We tend to be creatures of habit and as such, change is often very scary for senior adults. Your level of confidence or lack thereof will most assuredly have an effect on them. Make sure it is a positive effect.

Anyone who has the great fortune of a parent living a long life will also, understandably, experience great sorrow when any decline in mental or physical status occurs. You do not have to walk this road alone. Reach out to family and friends for encouragement. Many churches and hospitals, as well as senior centers offer support groups. Take advantage of these options. It can reduce the burden you carry significantly and make the transition for you and your loved one much smoother.

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