Many of us think of the taking care for elderly parents as something distant, which we’ll have plenty of time to prepare for or, even worse-we’ll deal with it when the time comes.
Too often have I seen adult children completely lost when the time came. Had they prepared for care giving, the adjustment would have been much-much easier.
In this text, I’ll try to offer some advises on how to prepare the best you can for the time you’ll, beside love, need to gather all your knowledge, strength and patience to take care of your elderly parent(s).
The earlier you start thinking of it, the better. The earlier you start talking with them about it, the better. Yes, no matter how uneasy or difficult it is for you, you need to talk to them about their wishes for those times.
What would they like-to move into a home care facility or age in place, for instance. Would they rather move in with you and your family, or with (one of) your sibling(s)? Maybe it’s not even you in the family who is the best choice for this kind of conversation?
Anyway, the issue should be approached with tact, starting with something simple, like “I read an article about the obstacles people have or make when aging. Do you think these stairs would make things difficult for you in time?” And there you go from there. Do not rely on assumptions regarding what they would want, or answer or how they would react.
Respect their wishes and do not try force your will, because “you know better what’s good for them” They are still and will always be the masters of their lives, unless you are a power of attorney to them.
Once you got to the decision that they, let’s say, want to age in place-that’s a starting point of your planning. You know now that you have some time to prepare.
Where to Start
First, you need to have a discussion with everyone who might be involved in this care giving. Ask for help from family members, especially siblings. Do not accept a no as an answer, as this role is too much for a single person to handle. Determine what each of you is willing to do. Also, to what extension can, or will each of you go.
Share the days and share the type of responsibilities:
-daily personal care and grooming;
-overseeing correct and timely medication intake;
-regularly getting supply from the pharmacy in time;
-grocery shopping; meal preparing;
-cleaning and maintaining the house;
-driving, to medical appointments, medical checks and tests, to visit relatives and friends;
-keeping company for a couple of hours
-helping to stay engaged with a hobby or community volunteering
and so on…
Do We Finally Agree?
Expect that not everyone will be on the same page right away. Disagreements and disputes will be part of these discussions. Still, it is much better to have them ahead now, then in the middle of crisis. If you can all approach the issues with the future needs of your loved ones in mind, it usually leads to an agreement at the end.
One of you will still need to be the “head of the operation”, the one who takes the primary role, usually either because he/she has the closest relationship with the care receiver(s), or is the distance between their living places the shortest. This person needs to coordinate the preparing process, as well, as will the care giving itself, in time.
At this point you will have a general plan only. Still, write it down. From here, you’ll be able to develop your plan in more details later.
What Else Do I Need to Find Out:
-is the house they intend to live in in any need of modification or repairs. Is it safe and secure or it requires some safety measurements to be taken.
-what medicinal care needs you need to attend to-make a list of illnesses, with prescribed treatments, names, correct dosages and administration times of medication, any additional instructions, possible symptoms of worsening and your correct response to it, names and contacts of the doctors or specialists they’ve been seeing about it.
-what appointments are routinely in place, where and when exactly. Put them into a calendar. You’ll keep adding the newly made ones here and have a clear schedule.
-name, address and contact phone of the pharmacy you’ll be getting their medications from
-whether an occupational therapist should be engaged in assessing their needs and help with suggestions on home modifications, medical equipment or aids
-if a medical alert system or a medical bracelet would help
-which exactly, if any, adaptive devices would be useful
-who are their chosen beautician, hairdresser or barber, where do they like to shop, etc.
-if friends can help you out occasionally. Neighbors are also often willing to help. Look for local social groups, church or other organizations that could sometimes help and find out the exact terms.
Do not feel uneasy to ask for help-people usually are more than willing, but do not want to impose themselves. So, go and ask. The worst scenario is a polite rejection, but the best is you might get off of your shoulder one of many tasks awaiting you.
Legal & Financial
-where important documents are stored: any contracts, insurance policies, ID, passport, birth and marriage certificate (or divorce papers), home, property-owner documents, different community membership cards, address book with names and contacts of friends)
-they might have a DNAR (do not attempt resuscitation) order or a donor card. You’ll want to know where these are kept.
-financial situation (bank accounts, with pins, codes, passwords, safe deposit box, etc.) Be very careful with this. Your loved ones might refuse to share these with you. As I wrote in a previous post, this is usually not expressing mistrust in any way, but holding on to that little control over their lives what’s left.
-about the pending payments for mortgage, for example. Make a list of routine household bills. See if there are any debts to be paid for, or any loans they’ve made to others. Do they have any other type of insurance, medical, perhaps? Life Insurance or Long-Term Care perhaps? Check what they exactly cover for.
-if you, i.e. your parents are eligible to apply for some kind of public benefit, like help with paying for medications, or medical aids, food, property taxes, heating bills…
-do they have a will in place already or do they wish to place one in the near future.
-what do you need in order to place a durable power of attorney for medical care and finances. It is very important that you discuss this with parents to have it in place, just in case your loved one(s) ever become mentally incapacitated.
Adult children (and sometimes aging parents, as well) may feel this as an insult, or a degradation of their overall capacity already know, but it can save a lot of undue heartache later. So find a suitable moment to talk it over.
-name and contact of their lawyer and if possible arrange a visit together with your parent(s).
Three Dreaded Questions to Be Asked
-have they made some funeral arrangements already or they wish to make some soon. Perhaps they only want to talk it over with you.
Asking your parents what do they want to do when they are definitely incapable of living on their own, finding out their wishes for the end of their life and asking them about their wishes for when their lives end are probably the three most difficult questions you’ll ever have to get answers to. Still, you should gradually deal with them, as your assumptions may very much differ from their actual wishes.
You, and probably they as well, do not want you to waver wandering if you are making the right decision when the time comes. Talking about it and knowing you’ll know how to respect their wishes will give you both a piece of mind.
“No Old Life Is Worthy of Ruining a Young Life”-A Sentence I Was Astonished to Hear at a Conference a Few Years Ago
Sounds disrespectful, awful, harsh, rude and cruel, doesn’t it? But if you take a step back and look behind the words…
When someone takes up the role of a single or even just a main caregiver, it usually means doing a lot.
If you haven’t been a caregiver so far, you do not know what I am talking about yet. Caring for an elderly, very often ill person may be a very difficult, extremely tiring task.
Of course, we want everything to be in order, our parent(s) well taken care of. Their daily needs for personal care, grooming perhaps, cooking different meals than ours, helping them to maneuver in and around the house, sometimes living through the frequent uneasy moments of incontinence.
Taking care of all the appointments, getting the necessary medications, organizing medical aids to be prescribed and delivered keeping an eye on medication administering, keeping under control any chronic disease they might have.
Supporting their social life, keeping them company, doing things as they wish, no matter how much more effective way you would apply, dealing with occasional bad moods-and the list seems endless.
Often all that on top of your job and the everyday tasks so far. It is not as if we had a double day to manage all that. No, we need to merge our two different lives together, into one single day at a time. And we need to accept that there will always be more to do than we have time for in 24 hours.
I had been a caregiver for all of my four parents (my own and my in-laws). With my reasonable mind I know I have done the most I could, but in my soul mind, even though it has been several years now since they all passed away, there’s still lingering a sense of guilt for not being there at some moments…
You shouldn’t feel like that. The impact of care giving can be tremendous on you, as if getting into deep water. Stress to cope with everything and that feeling of guilt ‘cause you can’t squeeze all your tasks in, can severely damage your overall health.
Especially if you are a full time caregiver, as this job is not only a job. It is a way of life that can be extremely stressful and difficult at times and can easily cause a burn out and lead to serious health problems. You will be of no use to anyone, if that happens. You have to remember to take care of yourself first, to be able to take care of someone else.
You Will Need a Break
Allow yourself a break. Make time for yourself, for your healthy sleep, at the first place, then for your healthy eating, exercising, meeting friends, reading a book, practicing yoga or going out to a movie. Whatever will relax you and charge you is welcome. Only make sure you make room for your own activities, not related to care giving in any way.
SuperCarers, a website dedicated to help carers, gives list of signs by which you can recognize you struggle with mental exhaustion:
-experiencing low mood
-worrying a lot
-Extreme tiredness, often combined with not being able to sleep, or sleeping too much
-not being able to concentrate
-feeling extremely energetic and not being able to wind down
-avoiding going out or seeing people
-changes in your eating habits or appetite
And I’d add irritability, anger, even extreme sadness, feeling of hopelessness. Sometimes a total neglect of your personal appearance.
If you experience some of these symptoms, it’s time for a change. As it is probably the result of you being overwhelmed by your care giving duties, first thing you need to do is to find support-emotional and physical.
Also, think of what exactly would make the situation better for you, and whether you or someone can make it happen.
Ask for some extra help from family, if possible. If not, try hiring some professional help to relieve you occasionally. If none of those is possible, carve out 5-10-30 minutes every know and then during the day for yourself, to:
-read a few chapters or pages of a book
-write a letter
-listen to some nice music
-take a walk
-or just sit outside for a while
-exercise for a few minutes if you can’t go outside
-call a friend
-have a nap
-watch a TV show
-watch online photos of destinations you plan to go
-plant a flower or do some gardening
-bake pancakes, waffles or something you are fond of
Whatever can relax you is fine. The point is to free your mind for a while from all the worries and anxiety you feel as a care giver.
As much as caring for your aging parent(s) can be filled with love, it may also be difficult and often exhausting at all levels. A good planning and preparation can help you relieve some of that difficulty, as you have time to explore and organize things better, avoiding being thrown in at the deep end. Do not forget also, that caring for someone is important, but caring for yourself is equally important.
I hope these advises can help those who are likely to become caregivers for their loved ones, to worry less and enjoy the time with them more.
Do you have some experience with care giving yourself? Would you share them in the comments? I’d appreciate it and someone will certainly benefit from reading them.
As always, feel free to reach out should you have any question and I’ll be happy to give you an answer to the best of my knowledge.
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