Judson Haims: Best practices assisting our aging loved ones
It has been more than three decades since I left my parents’ home. Since then, my dad passed away and my mother’s health is not what it once was. Her ailments that had been relatively minor just five years ago now require much more attention. Managing her care has become a joint effort among my brothers and me. Unfortunately for my younger brother who lives closest to her, much of the responsibility has fallen upon his shoulders.
I want to be there to assist in providing care for my mom. I want to be there to support my brother, allow him some reprieve, and provide him greater time to spend with his wife and children. I know he is fatigued and challenged in juggling time between his children, wife and our mother.
My brothers and I exemplify adult children assisting elder parent(s). Most of my contemporaries are either already, or preparing to be, actively involved in providing some assistance to their parents. A 2017 study from The Center for Retirement Research at Boston College indicates that more than 5% of Americans 40 to 49 years and older and 6% of people 50 to 59 are providing care for their aging parents. To put this into perspective, according to data from the U.S. Census, that’s over 85 million people between 40 and 60 providing care for an aging loved one.
Sharing caregiving responsibilities with family members can ease the demands of assisting a loved one. However, coming to an agreement on who does what, when and how, can sometimes add to caregiving stress. Often, if there is a sibling living nearby, they by default, become the “go-to” caregiver. This can sometimes cause resentment among siblings as the out-o- town siblings are not around on a daily basis to see the amount of help that may be required.
In such situations, I often suggest that families develop some sort of journal. In addition to frequent phone calls, my brothers and I use Google Docs to keep an online journal. We share our thoughts, suggestions and develop tasks for each to participate in. As each of our workdays differ and the ability to communicate at specified times often is challenged, an online journal enables each of us to participate and share our thoughts at a time of our choosing.
Understand the needs
While it may be considerably more difficult from afar, it’s often challenging to tell when and how aging may affect our aging loved ones. Signs of concern are not always overt, and often our aging loved ones may minimize challenges they may be encountering so as not to worry their family.
By paying attention to your loved ones’ behavior, social interaction (or lack of), hygiene, nutrition, housekeeping, and finances, you may gain some insight as to where your efforts could be best used. Once you understand the person’s situation, you can help develop a plan.
When I am invited to a new client’s home for an interview, sometimes the client’s needs are not always conveyed and transparent. Sometimes it takes a bit of observation and inquiry to better understand how I can help the family and client. Here are a few things to consider looking for:
• Is there healthy food in the fridge? Is the food fresh?
• What is their comfort level driving — particularly at night and in inclement weather? Are they missing medical appointments and isolating from driving concerns?
• What is the level of understanding of the medicines they take and what they are for? Are medications well organized? Weekly pill containers being used?
• Are they as social as they want to be? Social isolation can lead to health and depression concerns.
Don’t be overbearing
As our parents and loved ones get older, the desire to hold on to their independence can be at odds with even the most well-intentioned suggestions from adult children and family members.
While we all may want to be cared about and loved, we may be apprehensive about being cared for.
Coping with the aging of our parents is a life lesson — embrace the lesson. Make whatever time you have left with your aging loved ones as positive as possible. Laugh, share memories and cry, but above all, show your aging loved ones that you love them. It is clearly the greatest gift we have to give each other.
Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Aspen, Basalt, and Carbondale. He is an advocate for our elderly and is available to answer questions. His contact information is http://www.visitingangels.com/comtns or 970-328-5526.
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