Aging parents mean balancing act

By Valerie
September 3, 2010

Two weeks ago, we spoke about accepting a right to live at risk as it relates to our aging loved ones while continuing to give support and care for them.

Many caregivers can feel they are doing everything in their power to provide the best care and circumstances for their aging parents or spouse. When the balance scale is tipping to one side, it’s time to step back and ask, “Is keeping Mom in her home at all cost the best decision for the collective whole?”

Giving care or planning for care has to be a two-way process.

It’s critical we respect our aging loved one’s individual rights when planning care and making hard decisions. It’s equally important for our aging parents to take into consideration how their actions affect those who care for and support them.

If you say, “Mom can’t live at home anymore and we are too busy to help her,” it’s too general.

The problem might seem daunting or too big to tackle and invariably leads families to feel overwhelmed or uncertain on how to make a decision. It also puts your Mom in a very defensive position or left to feel she’s incompetent and unable to manage.

It’s really about saying, “Mom, we understand you want to stay in your own home and we respect your choice. However, when you fall and hurt yourself without telling us, we need to start talking about why it’s happening, what we can do about it and how best to support you to stay as independent as possible.”

The second part of that conversation might be, “Mom, I want to help as much as I can. When I’m away on business for three days at a time, I can’t be there to help if there was an emergency or if you did seriously injure yourself. Lucy is limited in how much she can help because she’s working full-time and the girls are still young and require a lot of her time, too.”

If you haven’t already done so (and if it’s not an emergency situation that needs immediate medical attention), stepping back for a few weeks to gather specific information can be helpful. For example, families need to write down particular situations such as, “Mom’s fallen four times in the past two months. All of the falls happened at night” or “Mom tripped over her door sill last week and had I not been there, she would have fallen and she won’t use her walker.”

At this point, describe the issue in writing being as specific and objective as possible.

You may go to your Mom and describe the issue and say, “We need to see Dr. Smith to better understand what’s causing you to fall. Do you want to make the appointment or should I?” or “Let’s take a walk around your house to see if we can figure out what’s causing you to fall at night. Should we do it together or is it better to get a doctor’s referral to have a case manager from the public health system come out and assess the situation?”

The goal of this stage in care planning is to consider all the facts, reach a mutual understanding that an issue exists and to inch towards making some decisions in the best interest of your aging loved one and the family members providing support and care.
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