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Bringing care home where it belongs


If you have an aging parent, grandparent, or other loved one, it’s likely they’ll need some form of senior care in the future, and now is the time to start a discussion about what their desires and options are. These conversations are difficult, but they’re necessary to plan and give your family peace of mind.

Don’t go into one of these conversations unprepared.

Don’t go into one of these conversations unprepared. Speak with medical professionals or conduct online research to gather the information you need to have a productive discussion. Make it clear that you have your parent’s best interests in mind and want to honor their wishes rather than making decisions on your own.

Start early. Ideally, “talk about caregiving arrangements before your parents actually need help,” says Amy Goyer, Family and Caregiving expert at the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP). Even if you don’t think they currently need a caregiver, stop, and assess the situation objectively. To keep the conversation with your parents from getting too emotional, “use something else as a jumping-off point,” Goyer suggests. For instance, if one of their pals moves to a senior community, ask your folks, “Do you think you’ll want to relocate to a place like that, or would you prefer to stay in your own house?”

When they push back, educate them on the risks. If your parent insists, that he or she will never need care, don’t argue, advises Marlene Vance, an administrator at Braemar at Wallkill, an assisted living facility in Wallkill, NY. “Say, ‘I hope that’s the case, but, you never know what life may bring. It would be great to give me an idea of what you’d like, so I can do my best to honor that,’” she recommends. Don’t wait until there’s a crisis! Add that you’re concerned about hazards of being alone such as falling. These accidents can cause problems like a broken wrist, arm, ankle, or hip, or even head trauma, significantly cutting down on the quality of life as well as life expectancy.

Observe and explain. If you’ve never spoken about care with your parents, and they now seem to need it, approach the subject in a planned way, says Miriam Scholl, L.C.S.W., owner of Westchester Eldercare Consultants, LLC. First, make specific mental (or actual) notes about the current shortfalls in your loved one’s living situation: Is Dad losing weight because he has trouble cooking? Is Mom no longer able to drive at night? Explain your concerns. Also be prepared with solutions, which take a little advanced research.

Make the goals clear. The goal here is to improve your loved one’s quality of life, not just to fix a problem after some mishap occurs. “Tell your parents you’re trying to keep them as independent as possible for as long as possible,” recommends Goyer. This may cut down on their defensiveness. “Don’t automatically assume your folks have to move out of their home because they’re currently having trouble navigating it,” Goyer adds. “Maybe moving the washer and dryer to the same floor as their bedroom would make it easier to do laundry, for instance, or the bathroom could be modified—little fixes can help a lot.” The truth is that having someone in the home to watch after your parents will prevent a lot of potential risks and preserve their quality of life.

Start Slowly and Involve Them. Unless a parent is in danger, it’s fine to implement caregiving gradually, says Scholl. At LifeWorx, we find that many clients start with just a few hours of light housekeeping weekly, to get their loved ones used to the idea of someone in their home. Solicit their feedback on any and all arrangements being made on their behalf, and be prepared to tweak them as needed, Vance stresses. Would they prefer the caregiver to come at different hours? Do they like to open their own mail with no help from anyone else? What would really WOW them and make them happy? Respecting their desires as much as possible will help preserve their dignity.

Step in with a secret subsidy if you can. Often, parents refuse care because they feel it’s too expensive, Scholl notes. If your parent already has dementia and can’t easily be reasoned with, try stretching the truth a little. “You can say ‘Oh, this caregiver isn’t costing anything, she’s covered under your insurance,’” Scholl says. Even a savvier parent won’t know it if you subsidize the cost of the caregiver yourself, especially if you handle your parent’s finances, she adds. “You can pay a portion of the care on your own, and simply tell your parent the caregiver costs a bit less than she really does,” Scholl explains.

Bring a third person to the table. Sometimes, an objective party can get the caregiving message across less emotionally. Ask your parent’s physician or friend if she’d be willing to join the discussion, for example. It would be great if one of your parents’ friends has some help at home and can talk about all the benefits with them. You can also consult a geriatric care manager—someone whose specialty is meeting with seniors and making recommendations about their caregiving needs.

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