By Maureen Lopes
Today your parents are still active – traveling, working in the yard, volunteering, helping you with family issues. Then, one day, you realize that they look and act differently – moving with more difficulty, cutting back on social activities or forgetting important dates. Worse, you find out the fire department had to come to their house because they left the stove on too long – or worse.
Knowing their biological age won’t tell you when this change will happen but the likelihood increases after age 80. If an acute illness, such as heart disease or cancer doesn’t take them early, the aging process can go on for years without them or you realizing how the changes accumulate over time. So it can be a shock when they have their second car accident in six months, gradually stop participating in activities that they always enjoyed or end up in the hospital.
Welcome to the world of elder care. No one is ever really prepared for the level of caring that may be needed. If you and/or your parents are people who like to plan, you may have already put legal documents into place, such as a will, power of attorney, health care agent and advanced directive . But the emotional affects of care-giving are unavoidable and likely to surprise you as your relationship changes with family elders. The emotional affects are similar to the stages of grief identified by Kubler-Ross around death and dying:
• Denial (this isn't happening to my family! Dad and Mom have always been so independent)
• Anger (why is this happening to me? I’m trying to work and help my kids get into college)
• Bargaining (I promise I'll be a better person if...)
• Depression (I don't care anymore. I’m so tired from trying to balance all the pieces of my life.)
• Acceptance (I'm ready for whatever comes.)
Do not expect to become a parent to your aging parents or other family members. Except when elders are severely mentally or physically impaired, they have responsibilities for their own health, safety, and well-being. Parents also have rights to privacy and autonomy – the right to make decisions about themselves, their bodies and their lives. Your parents have a right to refuse your help.
But the situation is certainly not hopeless. Talking and planning with your aging family member can go a long way toward easing the path forward.
First, review the Family Caregiver’s Bill of Rights to help you think about the extent of the care you can provide.
Second, print out several copies of the Caregiver Self-Assessment Questionnaire. Use one copy now to help you determine the current situation. Keep your answers in a file, with blank Questionnaires, so that you can fill out a new form periodically to “check-in” with yourself.
Now, create a “To-Do” list of the steps that need to be taken in the near future. Be sure to include your aging family member(s) and siblings in the discussion. Who will do what by when? Even family members who live at a distance can use the Internet to research, for example, assisted living facilities or home care options.
Don’t forget that it takes a team to plan for and give good quality, long term elder care – family, friends, physicians, attorney, financial planner or accountant, senior center and local health resources such as visiting nurse agency and short term rehab facility. You and your family elders are not alone!
VNA Community Healthcare, Guilford, CT
For more information, see Healthcare News and Resources at www.connecticuthomecare.com
Caregiver's Self-Assessment Questionnaire
Choosing A Family Health Care Agent