The Plight of the Family Caregiver
As professionals, we are often faced with helping seniors that have a variety of issues including difficult family dynamics. Often, there is only one person in their lives helping them steer through the murky waters of aging. So many issues can come up including finances, health, legal, insurance, and others that can stir up emotional issues in the best families. As a professional, you want to help these people but it’s a difficult task.
Even the senior will often be in a state of denial that can add to the split in the family and delay in their care. It’s a difficult situation as they see time slipping by and, with it, their independence. They start to notice the change but don’t want it to happen. Eventually the need to discuss the issues hits a critical point, perhaps a medical situation, fall, or increased forgetfulness. Often, their adult children start their research on aging at this point but they are also ineffective in helping their parents make the changes necessary to stay healthy. This is when good advice from a trusted professional can often turn the tide and start them down the right track. To help you in your efforts, check out this article by Judith Johnson: How to Handle Family Dynamics Around a Dying Loved One. Although the article is specific to hospice, the thought process would be the same for a family in any sort of crisis.
Losing Independence As We Age Is Difficult
Think of life in terms of a clock. When we are born, and for the first quarter of our life up until about 3 O’Clock, we are dependent on our parents for everything. Then we start to gain some freedom from them and get to make our own decisions. Some people describe their first bike ride or walk, without anyone with them, as that first moment they felt true freedom. From that point on we maintain our freedom to make decisions and do the things that help us be successful. As the clock edges toward 9 O’Clock some of that freedom can start to slip away. Some of the things we enjoyed may not be possible anymore. In more advanced situations with memory loss, we can’t be allowed to move with freedom for fear of disaster. These are very difficult times for the family and the senior. Having the discussion about taking away the car or moving to a safer place can be gut wrenching. Often our concern is related to what might happen to our patient or public safety if the family doesn’t seem to be stepping up to the task. Along with those issues and HIPAA, our hands can be tied.
How Families Figure into the Equation
Another element to this is the support you may be getting from family members. In some situations, there are multiple members of the family that want to be involved and their work together is wonderfully supportive. In most cases, this is not the situation. There tends to be one person that takes the lead and coaxes and works with their siblings to get them to help. In other families, the children live all over the country and there is only one person in proximity to be directly supportive. Many times that work falls on an only child, or no one is willing to help. Criticism seems to also frequent these family situations from the people that are least involved. You might ask--How can I work with this one person that cares and not burn them out? How do I support them?
What I Can Do To Help
By now you might be nodding your head but thinking--”yes, I understand this and I see it all the time--but what can I do now?” What society is finding is that Family Caregivers need support and the guide below has been put together in conjunction with AARP and other leading senior organizations to help with the difficult process of assisting their parent or loved one as they age. The guide is loaded with great information on dealing with the stress of caregiving, options and ideas on how to have discussions with their parents and siblings, etc. Make sure you click on the navigation buttons to find more in depth information like when is a good time to start care and how to have the discussion about driving. You can share this tool with the people you are serving and provide them with a wealth of information to know they are not alone and there are resources to help them. In some situations, another good resource may be a family attorney. If there are existing legal documents, they are well ahead of the game. If there are no legal documents, getting them while loved ones are legally cognitive is extremely important. This article on the “Least You Should Know About Elder Law" is a short but excellent primer. Being prepared in this way can also help you with the financial hurdles they may face.