Haims: Developing an aging plan
Getting older comes with many life lessons. Some lessons come with ease, some are learned along the way, some are taught to us, and others are forced upon us. Odds are, an aging loved one will at some point need your assistance. With a little planning and communication, success can be achieved.
For those of us with elderly parents, an unexpected change in their medical condition can cause many unforeseen problems. If you have not thought about how an untimely death, illness, or state of incapacitation could affect you, your family, and your sibling, perhaps it is time.
At some point, most of us will be faced with our elderly parents becoming ill, having an accident, or being diagnosed with a serious medical issue. When this time occurs, there may be many issues the family needs to talk about and decisions to be made. Depending on family dynamics, this could be an easy or extremely difficult event.
In a perfect situation, the experience of caregiving for a parent or a loved one could be a time for family to come together and provide shared support. However, because such occurrences are often stressful, the pressure can lead to strained relations and conflicts. Because these life occurrences are emotional, siblings should be cognizant that they too may experience an emotional passage that stirs up feelings from childhood. Watching our loved ones and/or parents age and become reliant on others can be a very difficult process. Everyone within a family may handle these events differently.
Sharing caregiving responsibilities with family members most often can ease the demands of assisting a loved one, however, coming to an agreement on who does what, when and how, can sometimes add to caregiving stress. Often, if there is a sibling living nearby, they by default become the “go to” caregiver. This can sometimes cause resentment among siblings as the out-of-town siblings are not around on a daily basis to see the amount of help that may be required.
In such situations, I often suggest that the closest family member or the “go-to” caregiver write down on paper their frustrations, feelings, and needs. This helps clarify and gives perspective to how much you can do physically and emotionally. It also assists in giving perspective to other members of the family of the magnitude of support that may be needed.
There is no definitive “one size fits all” solution in developing a family plan to help our parents and loved ones age. However, I have found that the best and most productive way to begin is to communicate.
Openly gathering the family together for a formal meeting — on neutral ground — is a great way to start. Deciding to include your loved one or parent may also be a consideration depending on the situation or condition of the loved one.
For those families with multiple siblings, defining each other’s strengths and weaknesses may be a good idea. While some family members may be adept with finances, others may be better with organization and/or communications with medical providers.
Below are some suggestions of how to begin and organize a plan to help an aging loved one:
- Develop a family plan before a crisis presents itself
- Include the parents in the conversation, if possible
- Define the needs of the parent: What do they want
- Keep family members informed regarding the parent’s condition
- Develop a plan to meet the needs with the use of family, friends, and outside help. This includes establishing realistic expectations and availability of time for all persons involved.
- Figure out a way to set aside past family issues and move forwards on behalf of the loved one
- Try to separate the needs of your parent’s from your own
- If money could become a divisive and contentious issue, hire a financial adviser or elder law attorney (sooner the better)
- Communicate feelings
- Convey appreciation and respect to everyone helping
AARP has a great online resource center. One resource it offers is a guide book entitled, “A Planning Guide for Families.”
By coming together and acknowledging past pain, resentments, and dealing with each other in the present, it’s possible to establish an effective plan to meet the needs of the loved one. Listening to and taking into account the concerns, suggestions and feelings of all parties involved, will lend to a collaborative and successful care plan being developed.
Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Eagle County. He can be reached at http://www.visitingangels.com/comtns or (970) 328-5526.