Caregiving is not like a switch that we turn on or off, that we are either caregiving for an older loved one or we are not. What I have found in my work as a geriatric care manager working with family caregivers is that there is a line that is crossed at some point. That line distinguishes what I would term the occasional caregiver from the immersed caregiver; a line that distinguishes the younger daughter or son who routinely looks in on mom or dad from one that suddenly is thrust into a role of scheduling and coordinating care for their loved one.
Any caregiver can be caught by surprise when they get the call that mother has fallen and fractured a hip, that dad has had a stroke or that their loved one is hospitalized for any of a number of acute conditions than are suddenly life changing events. But for most caregivers, there are not-so-subtle signs that it is time to become more involved. Note that I said more involved with, not more in control of your loved one’s life. One of the reasons that even a loving caregiver may not see the signs that they should be stepping up is that their parent wants to still be in control. The fact is that they can always be in control, but they may need more help with some of life’s day to day tasks that are becoming a challenge.
- Look into the Details. I have talked in other postings about activities of daily living as a number of facets of what we all may take for granted until we begin to lose some our abilities to take care of ourselves. For instance, are there bills that have not been paid on time, are there signs that mom or dad has not been preparing regular meals, do you notice that your older loved one is not keeping up their personal hygiene? Is there slippage? Gently ask to help with some errands or to bring in groceries or cook a meal – perhaps their favorite dish? Remember that you are not taking over; you are just helping out.
- Become Part of the Conversation. Mom or dad might appreciate a ride to their next doctor’s visit, and ask if they have any questions the doctor has not addressed. They may or may not have raised the questions, but they did not track with the answers. And you may have some questions about how well they are managing a chronic condition like diabetes, congestive heart failure or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Again, you are not usurping control; you are simply participating because you also care.
- Everybody Has a Role. As you are seeing what else can be done to help your older loved one, remember to listen for what they want to control and what they are happy to relinquish. Find out from the provider what the larger goals are, and then work with your loved one to devise a game plan in which they actively participate. If they are not an active participant, they will not own the goal. You already have made it possible for them to understand the changes in their health; now make it possible for them to participate in their success.
Charlotte Bishop is a Geriatric Care Manager and founder of Creative Care Management, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families in metropolitan Chicago. Please email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.