Talking with our elderly loved ones about how and where they would choose to live their remaining years can be more than awkward. It can be frightening. For many, it’s not as much the fear of the elders’ reactions to our words as it is an effort to preserve our own denial. If we don’t voice the fact that our parents are aging and may eventually need assistance, and then, yes, die — it won’t happen. This is a version of covering our eyes when we were small and saying “you can’t see me.”
Family caregiving is more of an art than a science. Most people who take on the challenge of family caregiving do the best that they can under their unique circumstances, yet, they often receive criticism, sadly even from other caregivers. How can family caregivers who are already doing so much for their loved one(s) weather criticism from outsiders about how they provide care?
Issues between brothers and sisters often seem to come to a head when a parent begins requiring care. While siblings who have always had a healthy relationship generally find ways to work through their disagreements, many who never truly got along can find themselves frustrated, hurt and even completely estranged from one another in the end. In either scenario, objective, professional advice can be helpful for those families who are experiencing conflict at a time when everyone should be cooperating.
The stories in this fine book showed us how others have gone through similar things with their families and that is somehow reassuring. There are some helpful suggestions but mostly there is the recognition that others went through the same thing. All we can do is our best. That is greatly reassuring during these difficult emotional times. If you are a caregiver, this is a must read. - Delores Edwards
Dear Carol: My mom is in the middle stage of Alzheimer’s so she needs gentle reminders to accomplish things, as well as compassion when her view of reality is off track. I’ve learned a lot from the Alzheimer’s Association, as well as from reading your work and that of others, about how we should interact with people like Mom. She lives in a nursing home and the staff is excellent with her, so I learn from them, too. When my siblings visit, they boss mom around and contradict her all the time, yet they won’t listen to me when I try to explain how to interact with her. It’s depressing for me to watch them do this, and distressing enough for Mom that she deteriorates when they are here. They do love her and say that they’ll try to do better, but as soon as they come back it starts all over. How do I get through to them that they are hurting her? RT
It's not really news that people tend to be their worst with the people they love. Generally, this is thought to be the case because people feel safe enough with family to just "let it all hang out." Their anger at their circumstances, which may or may not have to do with these family members, is the real cause. Other times, the behavior is because the person has an abusive personality with deeper problems lurking. Whatever the reason, it's not good. We owe the people we love our best selves. Not our "dressed for company" selves, but our compassionate, honest selves. However, most humans are imperfect creatures. They will take out their frustrations on people they feel won't desert them.
Many caregivers ask how to respond to siblings who, after being directly and distinctly asked for help, either skirt responsibility with excuses or become outright nasty if they are asked for assistance in a direct manner. Let's look at a few examples and contemplate responses. These can, perhaps, trigger ideas about how to handle your unique circumstances:
Summer is a time when it’s generally easier for elders to be out and about than when snow and ice are an issue. Even if our loved ones have dementia, severe arthritis, lung issues or a combination of ailments, there are things we, their caregivers, can do to relieve a sense of being left out of life that can affect people in their situation.
Think about the personality of your ailing elders and consider excursions or entertainment that they may enjoy. A short outing of some type can leave a lasting memory, or it can simply mean that there were some enjoyable moments, but either way, you’ve done something positive for them. Remember to take into account the fact that heat can be dangerous to elders, so prepare for outside activities by educating yourself about how to keep elders safe in the heat.
Dear Readers: For most people, finding out that they have received an inheritance is a positive experience. Not so when that inheritance is early onset familial Alzheimer’s disease (eFAD). This type of inheritance involves a gene which each family member has a 50 percent chance of inheriting. For those who inherit this gene, their chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease by middle age, if not younger, is 100 percent. In her engrossing new book “The Inheritance,” Niki Kapsambelis presents the story of a North Dakota family facing such a reality.
An amazing book of stories that will touch your heart and encourage you, especially if you are a caregiver. Carol Bradley Bursack also has an excellent website devoted to the elderly and their caregivers. - Carol Heilman
Dear Carol: I’m 69-years-old and widowed. My76-year-old single sister has advanced osteoporosis, inflammatory arthritis, and lung disease. I cared for her in my home for over seven years. My health is deteriorating and my doctor has warned me that, if I don’t change my caregiving situation, I’m in for big health issues. My sister said that she understood, so six months ago she moved into a nursing home. The facility is lovely and the staff is great. The staff members have told me that she has made friends and, considering her health, does very well. When I observe her, I see that she’s great with others, but her attitude toward me has changed. I visit daily and bring her everything she wants, but she piles guilt on me and complains about her life. Now, I have a chance to take a week-long trip with a friend to a place I’ve always wanted to visit. I told my sister about this opportunity and she’s pouting. She says to go but then acts hurt. Her caregivers tell me that she’ll be just fine. I want to take this trip. It's finally a chance for some real fun, but how do I enjoy it under these circumstances? TR
Researchers in the United Kingdom have found that elderly people are more likely to be moved into a care home after spending time with their families over the Christmas holiday than at any other time. The reason? Families who live at a distance tend to spend a longer time with their elders during the holidays. After a few days together, adult children notice issues with their parents’ physical or mental health that may not have been obvious during shorter visits or from telephone conversations. Some of these changes are thought to be due to chronic loneliness which can sometimes be alleviated through more in-home personal care. In other cases, the opportunity to socialize in a care home may be better fit.