Friday, July 30, 2010

Resist the Urge to Control -- Help Aging Parents Stay Independent

We have become a generation dependent on instant gratification and quick fixes. In general, we often have little patience and lack the coping skills to handle things that we cannot control.

So as we face issues with aging parents, spouses or other loved ones, we find ourselves in very unfamiliar territory and many times panic sets in as we realize we have to do something, but we can’t fix it.

The first thing to do is to RELAX and get a grip. No, you won’t be able to fix this and it’s not going to go away. Take a deep breath. You are going to find yourself on the wildest never ending, emotional roller coaster ride. And like any roller coaster worth its price to ride, it’s going to have steep slow climbs, sharp rapid drops, a few deceiving plateaus, and a bunch of slow bumpy ups and downs. Unlike the amusement park, you can’t get off. This one loops around and around.

The next thing to remember is that you are not going to become the parent. It may seem that way, but your role is actually to assist and guide them through the rest of their life. It might see easier if you just take over and do it for them, but this is not in their best interest.

Independence is Essential 
The key point is to make it possible for them to remain as independent as possible for as long as they can. You need to do things to “aging” proof the house.

Reacher can help keep aging parents safe
  • Put up grab bars in the bathroom, and maybe a few in the hallway or strategically throughout the house to help them safely navigate.
  • Clear away clutter. They seem to love to pile up newspapers and magazine that they insist they will read someday. Move them out, they are a fire hazard at the very least!
  • Get rid of throw rugs and make sure the carpet is flat. Elders don’t pick up their feet as well and tripping is an issue.
  • Put reachers throughout the house so they don’t have to bend over to pick up things they drop.
Consider hiring help to perform tasks they can’t or shouldn’t be doing. This does NOT mean 24/7 help!! It also doesn’t mean they need to move to assisted living facilities. A housekeeper to do the laundry and heavy cleaning once or twice a week. A gardener. Someone to assist with grocery shopping once or twice a week. Maybe they need someone to help them bathe a few times a week. A daily phone call to remind them to take medications.

If cooking is an issue, consider solutions such as Meals on Wheels or other food delivery services, gourmet frozen foods, or cook meals and freeze them for them.

What other ADLs do they need help with?
Device to help button shirts
Bathing, ambulating/transfers, toileting, feeding, dressing/grooming? The more help they need, the more help you need to hire. Perhaps a few hours a day. But encourage them to do as much for themselves as is safe and possible. Consider alternative as well such as slip on shoes instead of ties that Dad can’t handle anymore. Assistive devices are available to make any chore easier such as buttoning shirts, opening jars, long shoe horns, sock helpers, etc. Look for ways to help them help themselves BEFORE doing it for them!

Taking over and forcing them to be dependent on you or someone else will not fix the situation. It may cause them to wither and die faster. Be prepared to pick the pieces as they falter and make changes as needed. Crises will happen, and guaranteed they will come at the most inopportune times.

Slow down. Resist the urge to control the situation. Enjoy the last years with your loved ones. Keep them comfortable and safe, but as independent as possible.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Conflict Resolution Needed Here

One of the most common issues I have dealt with in helping families find ways to care for their aging parents is the conflicts that arise among siblings. It's almost like a time warp taking them back to childhood rivalries. Now it's focused on the parents. As each child struggles with their own guilt and other issues about living far away, not being able to provide the care, the money to assist with care or even just to cope with what's happening, there builds a huge struggle about what the parents need.

Sometimes it's about wanting to be the one in charge, or a need to seem like the big hero, or it's about making sure they're still in the will, or to be the favorite child. What was your childhood like? Which sibling had these same issues as a kid? Yep, deja vu!

Occasionally it's not even reality based. One sibling may seem to think that dad needs total care when indeed, he just needs some occasional supervision, transportation, and some assistance with writing checks (or online bill paying), grocery shopping, and cleaning/laundry. Once he starts to need a little help doesn't mean that he's going to be total care in a few short days!!

Deal with each crisis as it comes along. Each time they will need a little more care for a little longer, and sometimes 24 hour care for short periods of time, but encourage as much independence (as is safe) as soon as possible to keep them strong and active. 

Be alert to subtle signs and signals, and have a plan to make changes as you need to....but don't go overboard at the first signs of decline. The aging process is a long time line.

Here's a great resource to help you cope with some of those conflicts that arise as one sibling or another feels the need to take charge and take unnecessary steps way too early on.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Happy July 4th

Take a little time to enjoy your holiday! Have a Happy & Safe 4th of July!!