Saturday, November 30, 2013

Eldercare Q-A: My grandma can't live on her own. How should we look for retirement communities?

My readers are getting younger all the time.  So are my clients.  It's not unusual for a grandchild to look into retirement or assisted living for Grandpa or Grandma.

Whether you're a Milllenial, a Gen Xer or a Boomer,  the information you'll need to help your aging loved one is the same.

You may be familiar with the SWOT analysis used by businesses in strategic planning.  S stands for Strengths, W for Weaknesses, O for Opportunities and T for Threats.  Apply that analysis to your loved one.  The following are sample responses; yours will be unique, guided by your knowledge of your parent or grandparent.

STRENGTHS (These are positive things about his or her living situation.  Here are some sample items)
  • Grandma has a strong support system of friends and relatives.
  • Grandma has a positive outlook on life.
  • She has been generous and hard working.
  • Her hobbies include knitting, reading and singing.
WEAKNESSES (These are things that need improvement.)
  • Grandma has lost weight and is eating poorly.
  • Since giving up driving,  Grandma has become isolated and seems lonely.
  • Grandma suffers from short-term memory loss.
  • Grandma is reluctant to take a bath, because she is afraid of falling.
  • She has fallen several times in the last six months.
OPPORTUNITIES (If positive change occurs, these are possible outcomes)
  • In a retirement community, Grandma will have a chance to meet people her own age and make friends.
  • In her new setting, she can enjoy meals in the company of others.
  • Structure to her day, such as exercises, meals, movie times, etc., will make her feel more secure.
  • Staff can offer support with bathing and with medication administration.
THREATS (What might happen if she remains in her current situation.)
  • She could continue to lose weight and become weaker.
  • She could fall and could lie on the floor for hours.
  • Her short-term memory loss could cause her to fall to prey to financial scams.
As you do the SWOT analysis, involve your parent or grandparent as much as possible.  As you look for a community, you'll want to find one that will play to her strengths, buoy her up in her weak areas, and give her new opportunities. 

You'll also want to think through key things such as location and affordability.  As you shop for communities, both online and in-person, use the information gathered in your SWOT to help make the best choice possible.  Good luck!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Eldercare tip: Prayer is Just What the Doctor Ordered, for You, for Your Aging Parent

Facing struggles relating to our aging parents can drive us to our knees.

Difficult decisions, hard transitions, thorny relationships.  The storms of life can call us to the place of prayer.  We pray for wisdom for ourselves, for peace for our aging parent, and direction for the situations we face.

Prayer isn't just for churchgoers.  Nonbelievers pray, including Will Schwalbe, author of "The End of Your Life Book Club."  The book chronicles his mother's struggles with pancreatic cancer and tells of their book-club for two which met in various doctor's waiting rooms.  Mother and son read lots of books, including The Bible.  Schwalbe was a self-confessed atheist; his mother, a Christian.

One day Schwalbe announced, "I'm going to pray.  Well, not in a church.  But I'm going to pray." His mother beamed. That night, and in the nights to come, he did pray.  He used a devotional book of autobiographical essays by Anne Lamott called "Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith."

Lamott said the two best prayers are:  "Help me, help me, help me,"  And "Thank you, thank you, thank you."  Schwalbe tried those prayers, sometimes emphasizing the "Help me, help me, help me" and other times the "Thank you, thank you, thank you."  Sometimes he alternated; mostly he used both.

I've thought a lot about those two prayers, particularly as we face struggles related to our aging parent.  Tomorrow, on Thanksgiving,  we can pray "Thank you, thank you, thank you." Goodness knows, in the days ahead, we'll be praying "Help me, help me, help me."  And that's a good thing, too.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Eldercare Tip: When Crisis Comes to Your Aging Parent, Try Prayer

"Whisper a prayer in the morning..."

In the sixties I first sung these lyrics as a teenager in church youth group. Every Sunday someone would request it. Over the decades, as I grappled with life--including struggles with my aging parents--that chorus came to me again.

"Whisper a prayer at noon.  Whisper a prayer in the evening, t'will keep your heart in tune. "  Though simple, that song has meant the world to me, especially at life's crossroads.  Particularly as my siblings and I faced difficult decisions dealing with Daddy and Mother.

Daddy struggled with Parkinson's.  A few months before he died, my brother, sister and I were forced into a corner.  Daddy had contracted pneumonia due to aspiration.  His doctor said he might be able to prolong his life somewhat--and the key was somewhat--by installing a feeding tube.  But was it worth the effort? I remember feeling helpless, torn over what to do.

Perhaps you've felt a bit like this.  We all seem to be caught off guard when we suddenly must make decisions for our parents that are so hard, and it many cases, so final.  In my case, I struggled.  I agonized, and finally, I prayed.

I had no magic words.  Or barely any words at all.  But I'd been taught by my father and mother to pray early on, so pray is what I did.

Sitting in the presence of God and advocating for my parents was scary, at first.  I fidgeted.  I daydreamed, but finally I began to "get it. " Hadn't we been advocating with doctors, nurses and other authority figures on our parents' behalf?  And wasn't God more reliable than these flawed humans?

Lifting up my parent to God's loving care was better than magic.  We kids didn't have to play God or make faultless decisions.  Our role was to be God's instruments, used by Him and guided by Him.

We decided to consult Daddy about the decision.  Jim, my brother, told him about the procedure, and said, "We want you to help us decide.  Do you want the doctor to do this?"  Daddy nodded.

Prayer may not have changed the outcome;  Daddy's life was probably not lengthened by much.  But the practice of giving God my parent--and realizing that my brother and sister were doing the same, made all the difference in the world.

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