Talking with family about the stress of caregiving is tough. Many feel guilt, failure and selfishness if they can’t meet the parent’s needs, or if they are just tired and need a break. Talk with your family about it. Ask for their support. Keep a diary of the calls and visits spent each week meeting a parent’s needs. Make a list of the impact it’s having on you- from family, to work to self-care. Talk with your parent’s doctor about what’s needed. Enlist his or her help to encourage outside assistance. If that’s not enough, talk with your parent and family about other living options including home care, retirement community, assisted living. When possible, include your parent in the discussion and research. Find out about what they miss, what they’d like, what they are afraid of. When a senior makes a change that results in a better quality of life, they are thrilled. Helping them understand that a better quality of life is an option is the goal.
If you’re not local
Talk with them on the phone regularly. A 10 minute call from you or your spouse every few weeks will not identify a need. You may get the usual routine- “I’m fine, saw the doctor for xyz, went to the grocery store, talked with Aunt Mabel…..” They may very well be fine. But they may also be avoiding a discussion. Engage in conversation that lets them open up. Ask questions about what they are interested in or specific questions about their health. Find out how they spend their time. If they are not seeing friends, planning anything for their week, interested in current events or discussing things in detail, they may not be fine. If you’re having the same conversation over and over like it’s the first time, they most likely are not fine. Plan a trip to spend a week with them. While visiting, go with them to join a club or senior center. Go to their doctor appointment with them. Talk with them about emergency contact information, get the living will and power of attorney set up. Help them make their home comfortable, functional and safe. Keep your eyes open for red flags. Are they eating well? Sleeping well? Tired all the time? Do they make jokes to change the conversation or leave a conversation after a few minutes? Be careful not to lecture, admonish or criticize them if they are struggling to manage their needs. Talk with siblings about their experience. Don’t expect your parent to ask for help. They rarely do. Offer your support and put a plan together to ensure mom or dad stay well.