Shifting Balance of Care: Handling Sudden Changes
How to prepare for and handle unexpected shifts in your parents' situation
When Ellen Grey's parents, both 80 plus, recently moved out of their home and into an over-55 residence, the whole family felt they had come to a collective decision that would keep Sally and Matthew -- the parents -- safe and independent for a long time.*
Sally and Matthew would no longer have to walk up stairs, clear snow from their walkways and driveways, or be responsible for maintaining the grounds of their home. Although leaving their long-term home had been a major disruption for them, and one it took them years to agree to, they were adjusting.
At the time of their move, Matthew was frail, with serious heart problems, and Sally, in fine health, took good care of him.
But then, while bringing their recycling containers to the town dump a few months after their move, Sally fell and broke her hip -- dramatically altering their situation.
This alteration was accentuated when Sally learned that she had been having a series of minor strokes, and that she would need to severely limit her activities. It's unclear how much shopping, cooking and cleaning Sally can will be able to do, even after she recovers from her broken hip.
Unfortunately, sudden and drastic changes like these are common in the lives of elders 80 and over. One day things are going smoothly and the next, the landscape is completely altered, leaving elders and their families scrambling to deal with the new realities.
Is there any way to be prepared? And if not, what kind of support is available to handle the altered situation? Here are several suggestions:
Keep a Close Eye on the Situation
In Matthew and Sally's case, this would mean having someone there for long periods of time to monitor how they both adjust. Ellen is one of four siblings, two of whom live near within a half hour of the parents, but each of whom has full time jobs and families of their own. Can a family member be there frequently enough to evaluate how Matthew and Sally are doing and to intervene if necessary?
Read more about finding the necessary help to care for your senior.
Hire a Geriatric Care Manager -- Someone Trained to Deal with Just This Sort of Situation.
The geriatric care manager could meet with the family to determine the best ways of adapting their lives to the new limitations, make recommendations, and then follow up to make sure the recommendations are being implemented, or decide that a different approach should be taken.
Hire a Home Health Aide to Shop, Cook and Clean
This option would relieve the children of the pressure of always being responsible for their elderly parents. The amount of hours the home aide would come would depend on the family's financial situation and Matthew and Sally's comfort level with having an outsider in their home.
Move the Parents to an Assisted Living Facility
This would be initially difficult, since they just moved, and moves take a lot out of anyone. But it would alleviate the problem of shopping and cooking, since meals are usually provided at these assisted living facilities, and could ease the stress. Financially, however, this option could involve a significant loss, as Matthew and Sally would have to sell their just-acquired home without realizing any profit on it, having just paid for closing and moving costs.
Be in Touch with Neighbors
Within the parents' over-55 development, family members might ask neighbors to look in on Sally and Matthew and perhaps help with shopping.
Contact the Parent's Clergy
Perhaps some support system could be established through this network, especially if the elderly parents are involved in their religious community.
Contact Other Friends of the Parents to See if They Can Help
While many people find it difficult to reach out and ask for help, this can truly be worth doing. Friends often are willing and able to help, and they may have other suggestions based in their own experiences.
It is impossible to foresee all the shifts that can occur, in advance of a crisis, but it's helpful for adult children of elders to gather names and contact information of their parents' close friends, neighbors, clergy, and doctors, as well as a list of their parents' medications, health plans and numbers, and social security number.
Familiarize Yourself with Options for the Level of Care above What Your Parent Currently Needs
This can be one way to prepare for a future scenario that you hope never arrives.
*The names in this article have been changed to protect people's privacy.
Ronnie Friedland is an editor at Care.com. She has co-edited three books on parenting and interfaith family issues.
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