By Peter Tamburro, Boomerang staff writer
Story 1: Evelyn, Cindy and Tom
Evelyn was a vibrant, 77-year-old widow living by herself in Florida. After emergency surgery, she required skilled nursing care, so she relocated to Cleveland to convalesce at her daughter Cindy's home. Evelyn and Cindy quickly began lashing out at each other under the stress that caregiving can cause. Cindy asked her brother, Tom, to please help out more or move Evelyn to his house. Tom has five kids and lives an hour and a half away. He wanted to help, but didn't think moving Mom in with him would make things better.
Caregiving is stressful, especially for working adults who are raising children and taking care of an aging parent. When the child-parent relationship reverses, as it often does in caregiving situations, old, unresolved issues sometimes show up. Without effective and open communication, everybody feels guilty and avoids talking about what's really bothering them. To help everyone in a caregiving situation communicate better, try these simple tips:
- Remember that everyone in the family is a resource. Some can do more than others, but everyone has an obligation (and, probably, the desire) to contribute in some way. Seek ideas.
- Recognize that the care recipient is in the driver's seat. Care should revolve around her needs and preferences. That's not to say that everyone else must compromise their own preferences to accommodate her, but her opinions also must not be ignored.
- Listen more than you talk, and don't try to fix or solve anything unless you're asked. Often, all someone needs to come up with a solution for themselves is a sympathetic ear.
Following this advice, Tom, Cindy and Evelyn had several conversations about how everyone in the family could contribute to Mom's care. Tom began to schedule regular visits with his mother and her grandchildren. The older kids helped with chores and Evelyn's care, while the younger ones provided entertainment and a break from the mundane for Evelyn and Cindy. Not only did it relieve stress, the arrangement also taught the kids about family values, sharing the load, working together and responsibility. With the help of her family, Evelyn is now living independently again.
Story 2: Hope and Grace
Hope is 71 years old and shares an old two-story Victorian house with her eight cats. In preparation for upcoming foot surgery, her doctor told her she would be able to go home from the hospital after three days and asked if she would be able to take care of herself. Hope normally sleeps on the second floor of her home, but decides that she can sleep on the couch in the sunroom on the main floor and use the partial bathroom off of the kitchen until she can manage the steps to the main bedroom and bath. Upon hearing of her plans, her friend, Grace, suggests moving the couch into the dining room to be closer to the kitchen and bath. Then Grace offered to fix her some meals or bring in prepackaged food that Hope can easily prepare.
Grace means well, but she is taking over Hope's decisions and making decisions for her. Hope is an independent, relatively healthy woman who is used to making her own decisions. Her current situation is temporary and she is more than capable of asking for help if she needs it. Grace makes a conscious decision to back off a little, while still making herself available if Hope needs a hand.
Story 3: Ray and Pete
Recently, 84-year-old Ray and his oldest son Pete were having breakfast. Over the meal, Ray tells his son that he and Pete's step-mother are considering moving to an assisted living facility. "The steps and housework are getting to be too hard, and she's not feeling well." Pete immediately began thinking about all the problems this would cause.
"How can you downsize a 2,000-square-foot condo with two filled attics and a stuffed garage into an Assisted Living apartment?" Pete asked. Then, he started to offer alternatives. Maybe they would be better off downsizing to a three-bedroom ranch home. Pete even offered buying them a house to make transitioning easier.
Ray redirected his son by explaining that wasn't complaining or even seeking his advice, he was just talking about how daily living is a bit more challenging than it used to be. It was time Pete admitted and recognized his parents' growing vulnerability, something that can't be ignored. Ray told Pete about how they were already simplifying by having services brought in, increasing the cleaning lady's visits to weekly instead of bi-weekly and using take-out and delivery to provide meals they can share and stretch.
Whether it's with family or friends, caregiving is a journey that is best when it is shared. And what helps define its success is good communication, listening and respect.
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