We often refer to Geriatric Care Managers as the eyes and ears for the family when they cannot be there for an older parent or loved one. But it is more than just being present for a distance caregiver, it is also about learning to hear what others may not be able to hear or not wish to hear. With Mother’s Day around the corner, let me share the following as a test of your “caregiver hearing.”
- In your next visit with your older parent, listen carefully to their complaints. It may be that mom may always have sounded plaintive in your memory, but don’t let that get in the way of hearing if anything in mom’s health status may need attention. Find a way to filter out the “noise” from what is really being reported by mom.
- Turn that one around and there are some parents who never seem to complain. You ask them, and everything is fine. You may have to change your question from the usual “how are you doing” to “how is it climbing the stairs” or “do you sleep through the night without waking” or “any changes lately?” Don’t ask if they are eating well; check the refrigerator to see if it is well-stocked, if items are growing moldy, etc.
- In that visit, take note of your older mother’s disposition. Is she irritable or irritating? This is where history can be a bit complicating if mom always was at least a bit out of sorts, but note any changes that may actually be signs of depression. Depression is not just a bout with sadness; it can also be manifested in outright anger or belligerence.
- Be aware of your own biases…and then step back. It can be easier for some of us to ignore the signs or symptoms that something is wrong with an older parent, because it would upset the status quo. It can seem easier to ignore the elephant in the room, but ignoring a problem will not make mom (or dad) better.
- This may go for your older parent’s health care provider as well. Even physicians do not necessarily like to be the bearer of bad tidings. You may have to ask pointed questions, so accompany your parents to their office visit and be prepared with questions that are germane to their health status. If they are on statins, ask about their cholesterol levels as well as their heart. If they have a diagnosis with a label like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or congestive heart failure or other progressive condition, ask about their prognoses.
- Be alert to changes in your older parents’ functional ability, what we refer to as activities of daily living (ADLs). These are important, because declines in functional activities lead to declining medical status. The six general categories of ADLs are eating, bathing, dressing, toileting, transferring or continence.
- Finally, benchmark the signs you should be monitoring. If you are a caregiver who has frequent, regular contact with your older parent, you may not notice the decline that a sibling who comes from out of town every few months may see. Take note of how your parent walks now versus last Mother’s Day, for instance, or how tidy the house is now versus then, etc.
Charlotte Bishop is founder of Creative Case Management, a team of a geriatric care managers, advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families in metropolitan Chicago. Please email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.