Following advice not magic bullet

By Valerie
September 17, 2010

The past few columns have dealt with the sticky topic of opening up the lines of communications with aging loved ones about future care and what role family members play in providing support and care.

“So now what, Wendy?”

This is exactly what a family friend, Mary, asked over the phone last week. She confided in me, “Dad and I had the agonizing and awkward discussions and truth be told, I’m feeling more overwhelmed and stressed because I now realize the extent of the issues.”

She teased me further. “Ignorance WAS bliss until I heeded your advice.”

In Mary’s case, when she and her Dad put their boxing gloves down, they both admitted her Dad was ill and faced both financial and housing issues. It was the first time Mary fully realized the serious nature of her Dad’s chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (in fact, she had to look up its meaning) and his diabetes.

Her Dad also admitted that he hadn’t done any upkeep to the family home for at least five years and was too exhausted to start now. Financially, Mary’s Dad had recently suffered a loss with a few investments that were going to help pay for his long-term care.

Many families find it helpful to use a visual aid. Divide a piece of paper with two columns and write a list of what’s currently working in one column and a list of problems or anticipated issues in the other column.

Prioritize the challenges and problems. In Mary’s case, she and her Dad felt their first priority was to better understand his health issues and options for treatment. Close behind was to openly discuss finances as it related to future health care costs. Mary travels south for six months of the year and she and her Dad needed to talk about who was going to help while she was away and if there was money for private care and services, if needed.

Both of them were reluctant to talk about the house. Mary grew up in the family home and it made her stomach turn inside out to think about Dad selling.

Her Dad wasn’t ready to think about alternatives yet; he really wanted to stay in his home for as long as possible.

“So now what, Wendy?” Mary asks me, again.

I tell her she’ll just need to read my column in two weeks time as we move from problems to solutions. We’ll start to navigate the convoluted maze of health care services and figure out what resources and programs exist in the community and how to access to them.

Wendy Johnstone is a gerontologist and is the founder of Keystone Eldercare Planning. Her column runs in the Comox Valley Record every second Friday.

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“You are amazing! What I tried to do in 2 months, you did in 1 week. You’ve helped us navigate the system, made sense of Mom’s disease, and gave back her independence and control. Thank you for making such a difference in Mom’s life and giving us, her family, complete peace of mind.”

– Mike G., Nanaimo, BC