As families get together during the holiday season certain truths become evident. One of those is that Mom and Dad may no longer be able to take care of themselves on their own.
Once you realize they may need senior home care, it is normal to feel nervous about talking to them about it. Introducing elderly care into your parents’ living situation can be one of those “big deal” life changes. Many older people feel like it means the end of their independent lives. It doesn’t have to be that way. There are many options that maintains their independence – like in-home care. But making the decision requires a family discussion. If you and your loved ones talk about in-home care in the right way, then it builds bridges for all of you to get to the future instead of just burning people’s feelings.
To help families get through this difficult family conversation about elder home care services, Homewatch CareGivers created our “Let’s Talk” guide.
A good way to think about it is to make it a “What if?” conversation before you have to face a “What now?” conversation. It’s more stressful on everyone if the family waits until there is an emergency, like a fall or a sudden illness, to talk about a plan for the future. When a need for home care shows up in a rush, emotions run high and people feel defensive.
Bob Parman owns a Homewatch CareGivers franchise in San Antonio, Texas. His father had Alzheimer’s disease and was blind when his mother slipped and fell in a parking lot. She dislocated her shoulder, broke her kneecap and broke her arm. Bob and his two brothers needed to care for both his mom and dad for the next six weeks. This became a “What now?” conversation, instead of a “What if?” scenario.
“We thought it was going to be a piece of cake,” Bob said. “We had planned it all out.”
Each brother would take a two-week time frame and stay with their parents in their home outside of Nashville, Tenn., but all three brothers had to maintain their demanding jobs.
“It was a whole lot harder than we thought it’d be,” Bob said. “Despite when you tell people at your work not to call you, they still call. My company begged me to fly back. They offered to pay for the plane ticket and then they’d fly me right back. We all had that similar problem. It was difficult to care for our parents and do our jobs at the same time.”
Many families find themselves in a similar situation where an emergency puts a decision about in-home care front and center in a hurry. When it comes time to have the conversation with your loved ones, it’s a good idea to start with an innocent “ice breaker” like, “Can I get your opinion on a couple of things?” Additionally, use the word “help” carefully. That word comes with a connotation that seniors see as a loss of independence. When going into the first discussion, know that it is just that: the first one. There will probably be several talks while the family goes over details.
To avoid any tug-of-war or confrontational conversations, it’s a good idea to prepare a script ahead of time. You shouldn’t actually use it, but it helps to organize your thoughts. The script or letter lets you pinpoint your precise concerns and target subjects you may feel too awkward or anxious to initially say out loud. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. You can talk with a doctor or a friend who already has experience with this type of situation and they can even be there with you when you have the conversation with your parents.
Make sure you listen to your loved ones and listen actively. Don’t come in with preconceived expectations of what your mother or father will say – they will probably surprise you. Also, try putting yourself in your loved one’s shoes before, during and after the conversation. How would you feel if your children were in your place, having the same conversation with you?
As you define the big picture, make sure you understand what is most important to your parents. Often this focuses on the idea they will lose independence. It’s hard for people to feel dependent on others – even if it’s their own family members. You should also be ready for how much your life will change if your parents are suddenly dependent on you.
Bob is a good example of this. During his two weeks in Nashville, there was never a time where he wasn’t caring for his parents. He’d get up early to help his father and then would have to help his mother get dressed and cleaned up.
“In the meantime, my father is asking 101 questions and they are usually the same questions over and over again. And you just have to be patient,” he said. “You couldn’t leave him alone.
You had to keep your eye on him all the time. He would wander off and you wouldn’t know where he would go. In the meantime the office is calling: ‘Can you look at this? Can you look at that?’ And you’re thinking, ‘Can’t you do this on your own?’”
When his mother’s health declined later and she went into the hospital, Bob became the number one caregiver for his father.
“I was the one that could usually get dad to do what he needed to do,” he said. “I was the number one caregiver for my dad at the time while my brothers were at the hospital.”
This is where it helps to have one person in charge. That could be a family member or a professionally-trained caregiver with a customized care plan. The plan makes sure the care you’re your loved one is getting matches with what their doctor wants. This is especially helpful if you cannot always be there. When there are questions – those involved, like a home health care agency, can just refer to the plan. It also makes your loved ones feel comfortable that everyone is working together to make sure their care is in good hands. The process gives not only medical professionals, but family members a way to communicate and delegate responsibilities.
When Bob was out of town, his brothers would call him and have him talk to their father.
“I had to call and cajole him into doing what he needed to be doing, or to tell him to stop giving my brother a really hard time,” Bob said. “Dad was a handful. He was just always into something.”
It’s important to find ways to avoid power struggles instead of creating them. Above all, know your limits. You cannot solve every problem and that’s OK.
When Bob’s mother passed away, one of his brothers wanted to completely take over caring for their father.
“My brother said, ‘I’m going to take care of dad in my home,’ and I said, ‘Don’t you dare because I love your wife too much.’ It’s one thing to care for your own family, but it’s another thing when it’s your in-law. The idea of my sister-in-law having to deal with my dad all the time was probably not a good idea,” he said.
They had another conversation as a family and decided to their father needed full-time professional help. It’s important to think of these conversations with and about your loved ones as a beginning – not an end. This is the start of a new chapter and it often brings everyone closer together. Care is a commitment and it’s not to be taken lightly, but if you approach it with forward thinking instead of dread then it can also be gratifying for all involved.
Bob knows that taking care of your loved ones is not something anyone can do easily.
“It’s all consuming,” he said. “It was easy to do when it’s only a few weeks because you see the light at the end of the tunnel and you think your mom is going to get better. The idea of doing this day to day and trying to keep your job would be an impossibility – you just can’t do it.”
That’s why after his father died in January 2011, Bob opened his Homewatch CareGivers office in San Antonio.
“I knew that it was something that I’d love to do,” he said. “It really kind of fit my personality.”