Is It Time to Step in and Give Your Older Loved One More Support?

Asking “How do I know if …?” questions can help you identify problems and good solutions.

Posted in , Sep 14, 2020

A daughter caregiving for her father.

Lauri Scharf, LSW, MSHS, is a Care Consultant & Master Trainer at Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging

Sometimes the answer to a question comes easily: My car’s about to run out of gas, and I’m heading out on the highway. Should I fill up the tank? Other times, answers can be trickier to come by: What doctor should I choose for the procedure I need? The toughest decision can involve a variety of possible answers. Every option has pros and cons, and what you elect to do can lead to a multitude of potential outcomes: Should I take the job I want, even though it means a move to a new city? What if the job isn’t what I expected? Where will I live? Will I miss my home? Will my cost of living change? How are the schools for my children?

As a caregiver to an older loved one, it’s likely you are no stranger to confronting tough decisions. Here are a few common ones: Is it time to take the car keys away from Dad? Should I begin to organize Mom’s finances and take over the bill-paying? Do I need to pitch in on the housework? How safe is my loved one at home without assistance?

When facing such challenges, you may want to rely on your older loved one to take the lead in decision-making, even when it is no longer feasible based on his or her condition. Let me know when you’re ready to eat, and I will cook you something. Give me a heads up when you no longer feel safe driving, and I will be happy to take you where you need to go. The problem is that your loved one may be unaware of or unable to accept his or her new limitations. It could also be that he or she is no longer able to clearly understand what you are saying or to communicate needs. When physical signs of illness are not apparent, it’s easy to forget that you can no longer count on your loved one to help you make decisions as you have in the past.

When you find yourself asking, “How do I know if…?” concerning your loved one’s care, it’s an indication that this is the time to take action. But how should you move forward if you’re not sure of the pertinent questions to ask, let alone the most workable solutions? Family and friends who want to help may be weighing in, but you may not know how to apply their advice to your circumstances. Taking the following steps can be a good place to begin:    

Remember that having awareness of a problem is the first step toward arriving at a good decision. Maybe you need to investigate more closely. Consider these questions:  

Do I feel safe as a passenger in my loved one’s vehicle?

Has my loved one been making generally good financial choices?

What level of risk would be involved if I take no action?

In retrospect, would I regret that I did not step in earlier?

Come up with possible solutions to resolve your issues. It might go like this:

If I take away the car keys, my loved one will be without transportation. What are some options to make sure he or she remains independent? What can I learn about senior transportation, Uber/Lyft, or transportation through the insurance company? Are there ways that I or another family member can play a more active role in this area?

If I take over the bill-paying, will my loved one feel a loss of control? What are some intermediary steps I might explore? Would it work for us to pay the bills together? Would it help to enroll my loved one in auto-pay through the bank or place limits on the credit cards to curb unwise spending?

Don’t discount your own needs. It’s crucial to be aware of how the current situation is affecting your life as a caregiver or concerned family member. Pay attention to any changes in yourself, whether they’re physical, mental or emotional. Do you snap easily or feel overly tired? Have any such changes added to challenges in your life, either personally or professionally? Caregiving can take a toll, but it’s easy to disregard it and to tell yourself instead that you have failed or are selfish. Keep in mind that caregiver burden – and burnout – are real and they are indications that it’s time for a change.

It can be beneficial to reach out to professionals for insight and options, rather than relying solely on yourself and your social support network. WeCare…Because You Do provides support and resources for family caregivers and their loved ones and helps them to answer, “How do I know if…” questions for any circumstances they might encounter.

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