Thursday, April 22, 2010

What's YOUR Plan?

Yesterday I heard an interview on NPR's Talk of the Nation with Amy Dickinson a syndicated Columnist for the Chicago Tribune (Ask Amy). The topic was How to Talk to Your Parents About Assisted Living. In the course of the conversation she said that she and her sister had a plan. Their plan was that no one in their family would ever get old or frail. I had to laugh.

How many of us have had the same exact plan? And how many of you still do? It's a wonderful plan.....until the crisis hits and it all falls apart in a matter of nano-seconds right before your very eyes.

If we could all be healthy and strong and age gracefully and just go to sleep one night and not wake up. we would never be a burden, never have to lose our independence, never have to rely on someone else to help us with each and every one of our ADLs. But that happens once in a million.

The reality is that you can have this as your plan, but you've got to have a Plan B for when it all falls apart. It's kind of like dreading having the sex talk with your kids. It's something you MUST do and the sooner you get to it, the easier things will be for the next one. Because it doesn't end with just one talk. Neither does dealing with your aging parents.

Getting started talking is the hard part, from there it will get easier even if they are the most stubborn and resistant people on the face of the earth! Plan a family gathering and plot with your siblings, children and other significant helpers to make it about talking to Mom and Dad. And if you can do it long before it becomes a reality.... you'll have some ideas of what will work and what's going to be impossible. Heck, they might even surprise you....

Refer to Chapter 2 in my book, The Everything Guide to Caring for Aging Parents, for some hints about how to get started, and how to see things from their side first.

Don't put it off.... start making a plan today.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Caregiving When You Just Want to Run...

It’s one thing when you have a loving relationship with your elder, or at least get along with them. But what happens when you’re faced with having to face the cruel reality of caring for an aging parent who was an alcoholic or substance abuser, or an absent or abusive parent?

There are legal systems in place to assist you with this process. You can make your parent a ward of the court and grant the court guardianship or conservatorship over your elder so they can take charge in matters necessitating decisions that your elder is no longer capable of making. However, be aware that there can be some issues such as decisions about end-of-life care (i.e. Advanced Directives and a DNR) that the court will not make and in some cases may not be able to honor. This will vary from state to state.

If your parent has developed dementia, you may find that they are a very different person; perhaps much more mellow and even kind. If placed in an environment where substances are no longer accessible, the substance abusers will become sober. This doesn’t change or wipe away the memories, but it can make the situation more workable and less stressful for you.

One thing to understand is that whoever your parent was before, the person that the facility will come to know, and perhaps love, is a very different person. This is true for those who have had loving relationships with their parents or elders as well.

The son or daughter who can stand back and let their parent have a happy last few months or years in a setting where their past doesn’t count deserve recognition for their efforts. In hospice, we see this far more often than one might think. In offering support and condolences at the passing of the loved one, we’re quick to say that memories will comfort you, but in these cases it just isn’t so. Yet acknowledging the fact that they were able to make this possible for their parent should be valued. It’s not easy for any of us.