Lending a helping hand to a parent or loved one who is aging slowly, is a challenge. There is a difference when providing in home care for someone who is slowly declining than for someone on a path of rapid decline.
Sadly, as much as you try to care for someone with a serious medical condition, more than likely there is an “end in sight.” When our senior loved ones are battling with raves of age, there is no set time of a decline. Their capability of being physical and mental will start to decline every year though.
Seniors who have been independent, active with successful careers and have lived fulfilling lives their whole life, will likely adjust with difficulty to their compromised or “reduced” condition and lifestyle. This can be frustrating and even be disempowering.
Strong personalities who have always felt invincible can develop physical and mental limitations. This can cause vulnerability and insecurity. They may be psychologically and physically distressed by their limitations. Although they used to very autonomous, lived alone and were able to take care of themselves, limitations can come into play. Maybe they are unable to drive anymore or play tennis once a week like they used to; perhaps taking out the garage is too difficult. At this point, seniors are likely frustrated by how slowly they function at this point in their life or how, at times, they can’t find something. Since they are “perfectly healthy” or “just old,” it is harder to grasp. Denial is an easy state to be in when you value self-sufficiency and independence; no one wants to admit they can’t do what they once did.
The Challenges of Caregiving
Seniors who have been independent can be very hesitant to accept help, especially from family members who must see them in their debilitated state. My father was a classic example of this. Although he was a widow who can no longer live alone, he refused to accept any help. His heart-breaking incident – a fall – he begrudgingly accepted in home care services. Although he was a lucky one (the fall wasn’t horrific, and he was okay) you don’t want to wait for an accident like this to trigger awareness. Sometimes it is not easy honoring a loved one’s autonomy while at the same time keeping them safe but planning and preparing before it’s critical or urgent will be beneficial in the end.
Parents who can slowly debilitate when they were smart and capable their whole life is not easy for families to experience. Most elders prefer staying in their own, even if their home is not suitable for aging. They may also refuse the help they need, even though it’s not ideal. While we want to respect our parents’ independence and wishes, we need to ensure they are safe as well. Although our goal is keeping them safe and not fail, we must find the balance and overcome the fear of them falling. failing.
Ultimately, my father’s caregiver, Marilyn, became his new best friend. This being said, we had to refer to Marilyn as his assistant, not his caregiver (because of course my father refused to accept “care” from him).
The same mother who balked at having a caregiver in her home for even a few hours a day, after six months was so spoiled having someone cook her meals and so enjoyed the company, that she complained when Marilyn couldn’t be there all day. And when it became time for 24/7 care, my mom was happy to have “her” spend the night.
Of course, the elderly would rather stay in their own home. And it makes sense. Familiarity is comforting when we are less stable on our feet and have trouble reasoning.
If your loved ones demand to age in place, ensure they are there physically and mentally before the aging debilitates. Change is more traumatic for us as we age; it’s harder to let go and start over. Anything new gets very scary for seniors. My father’s assistant was next to him the whole time from when we convinced him to sell the family house to the move of a smaller unit. Caregivers are an asset to easing the transition.
I cannot express the value of finding talented, caring in home care professionals. If you are a long distance caregiver to an aging loved one just like I was, you will find these professionals very beneficial. When you are away from your loved one in their time of need, it is easy to feel guilty, to worry incessantly, and to feel that you are not doing “enough” to ensure your loved one’s comfort, happiness, and safety. The challenge is less stressful when you have a trusted, helpful professional.
The benefit of having a caregiver, when I was away, was that I did not feel as though I was the “bad person” all the time. Marilyn supported me throughout the process. Of course, my father listened to a “third party professional” better than his own children.
During your loved one’s slow decline, another resource to consider is the Village to Village network, which many cities have established. This is a community-based care organization with volunteers who help seniors who are alone at home – they shop, drive, and visit, providing invaluable assistance on many levels.
As 75 million baby boomers in our country enter their 60s and 70s, we have hopefully learned something from caring for our aging parents and can better face the realities of our own “golden years.” We don’t want to be a burden to our own children, and if we don’t have children, we better have a plan in place!
While end of life scenarios involve a gradual decline, with proper planning in advance and professional in home care, as well as utilizing community resources, managing a loved one’s slow decline is possible so that it works for you as well as them.