By Rick Lauber
Canada is getting older. Our most recent national census found more seniors (aged 65 years+) than children (aged 14 years and under) now living in our country. Aging baby boomers will increase this ratio, resulting in an increased certainty that family members will have an aging senior in their lives and may care (or help care) for a parent/friend/spouse/partner.
Family members, however, often disregard this fact and are caught unaware when a loved one’s health begins to decline. There are various reasons for this. Potential caregivers may believe the job is solely a family responsibility, not have experience with open family discussions; be embarrassed to ask for help; or prefer not to think about unpleasant topics (e.g. aging, sickness, and death).
I once thought both my own parents were the pictures of good health. This was true at one time; however, getting older is a fact of life and as we age, our physical and mental health can slide.
The road from maintaining good health to requiring complete medical care can be hard for both seniors and family caregivers. If remaining cognitively aware, parents may realize that they are losing their prized independence and need to entrust much of that control to their children. Giving up the car keys or complete decision-making ability may be considered a weakness. Family caregivers must take on new responsibilities; balance their own lives, careers, families, and outside interests/obligations; and watch as a parent mentally and physically weakens. Proactive, not reactive, planning can make the process easier for all parties. Have you considered the following?
Examining your own family’s medical history
Did a great-grandmother have cancer or did a great-grandfather suffer from heart disease? If the ailment is hereditary, another relative may be stricken with the same condition. Before a parent ends up requiring eldercare, take some time to learn about the specific condition. Ask the family doctor what to expect. Search the Internet (be wary of the source of information — when was the information posted? Has the posted information been updated — and when? What are the writer’s credentials?). Read subject-specific books.
Preparing yourself emotionally
Caregivers will experience predictable and unpredictable emotions. When dad was in his continuing care home, there were days I laughed, cried, felt frustrated, and didn’t know what to feel. Often, there is nothing a caregiver can do but stand by and helplessly watch. With no cure for my father’s Alzheimer’s disease, I concentrated on advocating for him and keeping him safe and comfortable as possible. Losing a loved one (or even imagining losing this special person) slowly or suddenly can be immensely challenging and rightly so — you are losing someone you care for deeply.
Creating a support circle
Potential and new family caregivers may feel they can manage the job independently or feel obligated to do so. Instead, they need to build a strong support circle; these will be the people they know and trust the most. Anything they can do can be of benefit; however, they can also reach out to a loved one’s doctor, Alberta Health Services (AHS), condition-specific health organizations (e.g. Heart and Stroke Foundation and/or the Alzheimer’s Society of Alberta & NWT), professional caregiving companies, local senior’s transportation providers, and so on. These resources (and many others) can provide information, a helping hand when needed, and respite when a caregiver requires a break. Admitting you may need caregiving help and accepting that help are not signs of personal weakness.
Reading the will
Many of the most difficult decisions may have already been made by seniors when they were of sound mind and body. While acting on these requests can become intense, family members can find comfort in they do not have to decide what might be best for dependent adults who may not be able to decide what is best for them. Having set directions to take greatly reduces the anxiety and potential squabbling between family members who are trying to decide what may be most appropriate and what a parent would want.
Caregiving can be a difficult ride. There are new time demands, different skills to learn, and responsibilities to manage. The job involves many other issues and considerations. Additionally, there are many emotional buttons (for all family members) that can be pushed during this time. Thinking — and acting — ahead will greatly help reduce a caregiver’s own anxiety and help him/her best prepare for these future challenges.
Rick Lauber is the published author of “Caregiver’s Guide for Canadians” and “The Successful Caregiver’s Guide,” an established freelance writer, and a previous co-caregiver. HYPERLINK “http://www.ricklauber.com” http://www.ricklauber.com.