One of the most difficult decisions a person may ultimately have to make is whether a parent who has lived independently nearly an entire lifetime needs someone to come into the home to provide services or care. More often than not, changes in a parent’s ability to function safely and independently occur imperceptibly, over time. In other cases, one parent may alert you to concerns about the other parent, or an emergency gives rise to the decision.
Whatever your circumstances, plans and decisions need to be made. Difficult plans and decisions. But you are not alone. Millions of men and women today face the same difficulties as their parents age, and the numbers are only growing. What follows are the stages of finding care for a parent, common to anyone who has to make these difficult decisions.
- The “Aha Moments”
Something happens. A fall, accident, heart attack or stroke. These are major incidents that lend themselves to recognizing mom or dad may need care in the home. But there are other “aha moments” as well. Perhaps mom forgot she left the stove burner on and it started a fire in the kitchen. Maybe mom has her shirt or sweater on inside-out. Or maybe dad can no longer drive because his eyesight is diminished. Anyone who provides care for a parent can tell you that at some point a switch was activated in their minds, whether because of an emergency or something else, that caused them to pay closer attention. It caused them to recognize that a parent had become frail, needy, or possibly even vulnerable.
- The Observation Period
This is time when you begin to watch a parent more closely. The process is actually for your benefit as much as the benefit of your parent. You watch for symptoms of conditions and diseases. You watch for memory issues and physical ailments. You notice the number and frequency of medications. And while you’re watching, you may even start doing online research, comparing notes, and talking with others who have elderly parents. You may begin to research dementia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and ALS. You do this, not because you want to diagnose a parent, but as a part of an assimilation process. It is adjusting to the possible changes ahead. It is absorbing and accepting that your parent won’t be around forever and that, even more frightening, your parent cannot live independently for much longer. Believe it or not, there is as much “acceptance” and “adaptation” required of a child or relative of someone who needs care as there is for the person who is in need of the care. You want to slow down the aging process. You want your parent to be that rare exception who is “sharp as a tack” and “fit as a fiddle” to the very end. Yet the changes continue, and you witness the decline. Sometimes it’s slow and sometimes extremely accelerated. In either case, you become increasingly aware of your parent’s need for assistance.
- The Caregiving Period
You’re a good child and a good soul. You take care of your parent. You make sure they get picked up and driven home for family and special events. You call and talk to them daily and you spend more and more time in their home or on their behalf attending to their needs. You may welcome the opportunity to spend more time with your parent at first — until it begins to take a toll. Maybe it eats into the only free time you have, and you lose the opportunity to decompress from life’s challenges. Or perhaps it interferes with the time you spend with your spouse, children or grandchildren. You may find yourself needing to take time off from work, miss events with friends, or pass on a vacation. Worse still, you may have passed on a promotion at work because it interferes with the help you provide your parent. Weeks of caregiving may turn into months and even years. You may even share the role with a sibling. But the work is exhausting and it affects your health. It is in the midst of this that you can choose something that works better for you as a caregiver and works equally well for a parent: home care services.
- The Decision Making Period
This point in the process of caring for a parent is undoubtedly the most difficult. This comes partly from your own sense of responsibility to provide the care yourself. You may be feeling a tremendous sense of guilt about hiring a stranger to come into a parent’s home and care for them – particularly if your parent objects to it or resists having anyone except you or a sibling giving the assistance. You may be feeling fear that the company or person you hire would not be kind, compassionate, and loving, or worse. You’ve read horror stories about abuse and couldn’t live with yourself if you made a decision that caused your parent to suffer any harm.
You can search the internet and find hundreds of websites devoted to aging and making decisions about care for a parent, but at the end of the day, the decisions are never easy. It will come down to trusting your instincts and trusting the company that you hire to provide services for your parent. Do your homework. Ask around and get referrals. And when you narrow down the search, interview the provider in person to make sure that you are comfortable. Skype if you have to. There are many organizations that provide helpful guides for finding the right company for you, including the National Association for Hospice and Home Care and AARP.
- The Emotional Aftermath
When you have finally settled on a company and worked to create a care plan for your parent, you may have about 15 minutes to breathe a sigh of relief. Hopefully you will find that your parent has gained a valuable friend in a home care provider and settled into a wonderful new routine.
More than likely, you will continue to experience feelings of guilt and fear. You will need to continue to research your options and plan ahead. Your parent’s physical and mental health, as well as input from a physician, will serve as a guide for planning. This may involve an eventual move to assisted living or a nursing home. Planning ahead will make any future transitions or changes easier for everyone, including your parent. Take advantage of the many resources available online to help you with this process and the ongoing planning, remembering always that you are not alone in your journey and there are people who sincerely want to help you.
© 2015 CareAparent™
All rights reserved. No part or portion of this article can be reprinted without the express written permission of the CareAparent.™
Lisa McLeod-Lofquist is an attorney in St. Paul, Minnesota and co-founder of CareAparent™, a home care agency for seniors. Contact Lisa by email at lisa.lofquist@careAparent.com.