By Trena Winans, Education & Community Outreach Director
Over the last seven years I have met many caregivers working hard to navigate the changes in their lives when a loved one becomes ill or needs assistance. Here are a few of the key questions and suggestions I find that family caregivers seem to need.
Diagnosis and Paperwork Getting a diagnosis can assist you in understanding what that person is going through and what you might expect. The sooner you know this, the sooner you know what legal documents might be needed. Don’t wait! Line up documents like Power of Attorney and Advance Healthcare Directive, and have meaningful conversations with the person about their wishes while they are still able. You’ll be better equipped to honor their wishes with minimal cost, headache and heartache if you do.
The Question of the Keys If you are noticing driving trouble, ask yourself some hard questions. Would you allow your grandchildren to ride with them? If not, you need to think about all the other grandkids on the roads. Some people choose to stop driving themselves, while others get angry at the idea. It is possible to make an anonymous request of the Secretary of State to do a driving assessment. A doctor may also order them to stop driving. Regardless, don’t take away the keys without replacing their ability to get around. Can you drive them yourself? Can they get rides from Senior Services, or County Connection, taxi, Lyft, etc? Keep in mind that a dementia diagnosis is not an automatic disqualifier. They may be perfectly safe but you need to keep an eye on the situation.
Safety First Many times there are home modifications needed to reduce falls and lower risk of other accidents. New inventions come out all the time that may be of help. A caregiver recently pointed out to me a normal looking watch that can give direction assistance, make emergency calls and give medication reminders, all by voice control. The National Institute on Aging has excellent safety tip sheets online for free. Senior Services can send out a volunteer handyman to make improvements like grab bars and raised toilet seats.
Family Unity Attempt to get your family on the same page. Arrange a family meeting to establish common goals and divide the workload if possible. Have an agenda and stick to it. Even if people live far away, there are ways to help. Can they pay for lawn service, snow removal and housecleaning? Perhaps finances can be handled remotely, or they can be in charge of arranging rides to appointments.
Don’t be Penny Wise and Dollar Foolish If in trying to do it all, you were to get injured, sick or fall, the cost to put both you and your loved one into assisted or nursing care would be astronomically greater than if you hired help in the first place. Caregiving is not a solo sport. You will need help.
Resistance The biggest roadblock is often that your loved one does not want anyone but you to help them. A person with dementia will tend to shadow their caregiver. You have become their touchstone to reality and they may want to be with you at all times. This is exhausting and unsustainable. The best bet may be to honestly ask them to help you by allowing you to arrange care assistance. One of the great tragedies of illness is they feel like they can’t help anyone anymore. Tell them how you feel and the impact it is having on you and ask them to help you by allowing outside help. This does not always work, but it is often your best bet. Other times, you simply have to insist. You cannot care for another if you don’t also take care of yourself.
You Are Not Alone Find a support group or join a class. Not only is it helpful to know that others are attempting to figure all this out, they may have gained incredible wisdom from their experience.
Get Educated Particularly with dementia, there are a number of communication adaptations that you will need to learn in order to best help your person live a happy and fulfilling life. Classes are available every single month here at Senior Services and numerous webinars are available on the Internet.
Don’t Become the Second Victim of the Disease Get help! Senior Services can help with information, care coordination, home safety modifications, home care, adult day services, Meals on Wheels, counseling, classes, support groups and more. Don’t go it alone. There are people here to help.