(Suddenly I am a Caregiver: Notes to the Family) Beginning Your Journey Through Eldercare
Aging brings on many challenges. They actually begin from the moment of birth. As an infant these challenges are met with feelings of pride and success. Feelings of accomplishment surface as the challenges of adult hood are met. At mid-life not only is there a backward glance at life, but a look to the future as we begin the wishing for the time when retirement begins. What will happen with retirement and that final stage--life as a senior?
As we enter into older age most people have not planned for some of the challenges that arise during those “Golden Years”. All too often there is a change in health that has a major impact on both the older adult and their family. Suddenly everyone’s life is changed by these new demands. How did this happen? How did we get here? And most commonly felt, what now and where do we go from here?
Communication with your older family member is important. Find out what his or her goals are. How does he want to live? How does he plan to accomplish these goals? What can he do for himself? Who is expected to help? You, others? Is the ability to perform the tasks that will be needed to meet these goals-shopping, cooking, driving to the doctor, lawn care, still there? What is your responsibility? You need to realize that as long as this loved one is able to assess the risk of their decisions, they are in charge of their life. Remember that it is okay for you to disagree.
As important, if not more so, as talking with your family member, is looking within yourself and talking with your immediate family. Know what you, yourself, can do without impairing your life and your health and that of your family. If you do not care for yourself first, you cannot care for your loved one. Once you know the limits of what you can do for this love one, then you (1) can let him/her know exactly what can be expected from you and (2) what he/she needs to do to plan their life. After setting these limits and boundaries your communication with your loved one will go much more smoothly.
Now look for outside help, although often times finding help feels like another crisis in itself. As the caregiver you can contact the local Department or Council on Aging, Senior Center or other aging services organizations. They are a good place to start. Their numbers are often in the blue pages of your local phone book. It is at this point that a geriatric care manager can be of great help. They can provide a wealth of help and support. They can do an assessment to determine what is needed, set-up assistance, monitor the care, be the local “family” if you are out of town and much more.
In the event the older family member has a major change in his health, have a plan in place for what to do. Make sure that you have talked about what to do in the event his heart stops beating, what measures for resuscitation, quality of life the family member wants, living arrangements, etc. Already have in place a living will, power of attorney and durable power of attorney. Make sure that all immediate family members are aware and in agreement with the family member’s wishes. Don’t forget that bills have to be paid if the individual is unable. Having checking signing capability on his checking account is helpful.
Remember that you are not in this alone. Ask for help! For your own health and wellbeing and that of your families, know your limits, stick to them. Find help and support. Geriatric Care Managers can be a resource that will allow you to continue to be a son or daughter while they manage the care of your loved one.
-Madelyn Ashley, RN, MSN, founder and care manager for Senior Transitions.
E-mail: Contact Madelyn