Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Eldercare Tip: 'Respite' Can Save a Caregiver's Life

Caregiving day in, day out, is a recipe for stress.  If you care for your aging parent, you know firsthand.  Ditto if you watch one parent caring for his or her spouse.

Taking a "respite" is essential.  The word literally means a rest.  Today that rest can take several forms:

1.  Every day respite:  Breaks--for several hours at a time or even a day here and there--are critical for the caregiver to survive.  Family members or paid caregivers can come to the rescue.  So can adult day centers, or home care providers.  You can find respite type resources at local senior centers.

2.  Longer chunks of respite time:  The caregiver may need or want to take a vacation.  Take one of my clients, Mary.  She had cared for her husband, who had suffered several strokes, for a decade.  This last summer she had a chance to go to Canada on a "girls retreat" with her daughters, granddaughters and her sister.  But what to do with her husband?  She moved him into an assisted living community under "respite" status.  In this case he stayed for a week.  (Respite stays are typically up to one month.) She returned rested and with many stories to tell.  The bill for his care was $200 a day; the whole family said it was worth every penny!

3.  Extended respite at home:  Sometimes it's easy for an ill parent to stay at home with a paid caregiver.  Home is familiar, and possibly the best place for him or her to stay while their spouse is away.  This option is the most expensive, however.  Home Care agencies charge about $300 a day for live-in caregivers.

There are other creative alternatives that can help bring respite to the caregiver.  Family members can pitch in to care for Dad or Mom for a few hours--or a few days.  Or mix paid and unpaid help to relieve the caregiver.  Do whatever works.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Eldercare Tip: Stop, Look and Listen for Better Visits With Your Parent

Sometimes focusing on the simple is best.  Especially when we're visiting our aging parent.  Our goal in a visit is to communicate love and acceptance and to discern any changes that are going on in their lives.  We want to help.  Sometimes that's hard to do.

I'm hoping these simple ideas will spark others that will help you as you visit with your parent.

Stop.  In many ways, we Boomers run at warp speed. We cram a million things (it seems) into a day.  Our aging parents, on the other hand, focus on one or two main tasks.  We walk faster; we talk faster; we think faster (not necessarily better, just faster.)  We're the hare; they're the tortoise.  Our communication works best if we slacken our pace to match theirs.  Simple things can make them feel at ease.  Talk a little slower, for example.  Avoid multiple questions and instead stick to one subject. When we walk with them,  dropping our speed allows them to keep up with us.  That's key to their self esteem.

Look.  Be aware of changes that are taking place in your aging parent.  If your parent has always resembled the crumpled Oscar Madison in "The Odd Couple," a messy house is part of his character and DNA.  But if he had prided himself on majoring in "House Beautiful," a sudden change in housekeeping might mean he's slipped into depression.  Look for other things that signal that a change:  the refrigerator growing indoor green plants, or your parent wearing the same clothes day after day.  When you gather facts that don't add up, you'll want to talk to someone, and at some point approach your parent with your concerns.

Listen.  When another Boomer asks, "How are you doing?"  your automatic answer is probably, "Fine," even when you're not so fine.  Your aging parent has removed his or her social filters, though, so when you ask that same question, "How are you doing?"  be prepared to listen carefully to several minutes of medical issues such as medication changes, upcoming surgeries, and a litany of aches and pains.  Your parent is focused on the physical, understandably, and that probably won't change. The best thing we can do is to really listen, even when we're not excited about the topic.  Forget the I-Phone, the clock on the wall or the television screen.  Focus on him or her.  When you do, surprises sometimes happen.  Stories emerge, entertain, and excite.  Happy listening.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Eldercare Q-A: My Parent is Very Sick, Maybe Dying. What Do I Say?

Your parent has heard some grave words from the doctor.  Life threatening words. You want to be supportive.  But how?

Will Schwalbe, author of  "The End of Your Life Book Club," wrestled with that dilemma.  His mother was struggling with pancreatic cancer.  As they sat in the waiting rooms together, they talked about the books they were reading. And a book club of two was formed.

One book they read was "The Etiquette of Illness," by social worker and psychotherapist Susan Halpern.  Schwalbe says about Halpern's book:  "It's really about what to do when you feel scared that doing something, if it turns out to be the wrong thing, might be worse than doing nothing at all."

After finishing Halpern's book in the middle of the night, Schwalbe scribbled down on a scrap of paper three things he didn't want to forget.  The next morning he began using them with his mother. Perhaps they'll be helpful as you support your parent.

1.  Notice the difference between "How are you feeling?" and "Do you want to talk about how you are feeling?" The first approach is intrusive and demanding, the second gentler, Halpen says. Your parent may not want to talk about how he or she is feeling for a number of reasons:  possibly he or she is having a good day and doesn't want to be the "sick person."  Or maybe it's a bad day and he or she wants to be distracted by talking about something else.  Or maybe your parent is getting tired of answering the same question all day long.  Giving your parent a choice about conversation is empowering.

2.  Don't ask your parent if there's anything you can do.  He or she may not want to burden you.  Or your parent may find that thinking of ways for you to help is more trouble than it's worth.  Instead, suggest things, or if it's not intrusive, just do them.

3.  You don't have to talk all the time.  Sometimes just being there is enough. Depending on their preference, you might touch their shoulder or hold their hand.  Sometimes reading their favorite Scripture or poetry aloud is good.  Bottom line, trust your knowledge of your parent.

I'm still reading "The End of Your Life Book Club."  I'll keep you posted on any other tips I discover. Can you think of any other tips for communicating with parents who face life-threatening illnesses?
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