A colleague recently asked me to lunch. “I want to pick your brain about my parents,” she said.
I knew some of her parents’ history–they lived in a rural area on the East Coast. My friend lived in Chicago; her siblings, on the West Coast. I also knew her parents had been resisting help. I knew we were going to talk about how to get her parents to accept more help.
And, we did. Her mother, diagnosed with dementia, struggled more with her short-term memory loss. Her father, older than his wife by seven years, was now slowing in his ninetieth decade.
I’m going for a visit soon, my friend said. What can I do to help them?
It’s a smart idea to plan ahead to take advantage of an upcoming trip to visit parents or other aging relatives. You can use the time together wisely to begin the transition to more help.
These suggestions can help you make the most of a visit:
1. If your caree suffers from short-term memory loss, call the local chapter of her parent’s Alzheimer’s Association for a list of physicians and clinics which can diagnose dementia. A primary care physician can be a great resource, but when it comes to the tricky business of diagnosing dementia, you’ll want a team of specialists to run a battery of tests. You’ll want to schedule the appointment during your visit so you hear the diagnosis and recommendations. Large hospital systems often will have clinics, sometimes called Memory Clinics, which specialize in diagnosing and treating Alzheimer’s and related dementias. The National Institutes of Health provides funding to Alzheimer’s Disease Centers across the country (there aren’t enough, but it’s a start); for locations and more information, visit here.
2. Understand the resources available to you. It turns out my friend’s parents have a neighbor who worked for a local home care agency. The neighbor can be knowledgeable source of information about local community services.
3. Build on what’s already working. My friend kept insisting her parents wouldn’t accept any help. About an hour into our conversation, she mentioned her parents had a housekeeper who cleaned once a week. My friend (and her siblings and her uncle) has been nagging her parents to get a new housekeeper. Ah!, I said, use the idea of a new housekeeper to add more help in the house. Perhaps rather than hiring another housekeeper, hire a home health aide, which can help with light housekeeping, meal preparation and personal care. I’ve often found that something is working which keeps a caree home. Figure out what that secret sauce is and then build on it.
4. Be a part of the transition. I suggested that my friend schedule appointments to interview help during her visit. When she’s a part of the interview and hiring process, she can help her parents continue with the transition. If she’s not there, it’s easier for her parents to say, “We didn’t find anyone we liked.” With my friend a part of the process, she can offer words of encouragement to her parents: “I know this is tough. You’re doing great. We can figure out how to make this work together.”
5. Experience the change together. After hiring more help, I suggested that my friend or another family member be involved when the new help arrives. When you understand the impact of the change, you can take steps to make adjustments so your caree isn’t undone by the change. When bumps happen (and they will) your perspective can help calm rough waters. You also can quickly contact the agency to address concerns before they become huge problems.
6. Create back-up plans. The irony of involving more help is that it solves some problems but can create new ones. Help will cancel, get sick, find new jobs. Once you’ve organized more help, work on a back-up plan. Find another home health agency who can provide staff in a pinch. Learn about other community service providers and organizations which can help. A plan of care evolves and adjusts as a caree’s needs change and as availability of help changes.
The move into more help and care can be an unsettling time for everyone. With a plan, you can feel better about managing the experience for all of you.
How did you transition into more care for your caree? Share your tips in our comments section, below.
- Getting a Break: Ideas to Get a Few Hours of Respite (caregiving.com)
- ARGH!!! to “Family Caregivers Don’t Self-Identify” (caregiving.com)
- Long-Distance Caregiving: Tips for the Check-In Call (caregiving.com)
- Who Speaks for the Speechless? (caregiving.com)
- Dementia Care: How Do You Make It? (caregiving.com)