Stepping stones in care needs: when outside help is needed, how do you begin?
by Carol Bradley Bursack, Editor-in-Chief
Convincing people that they need help can be difficult. Generally adult children of aging parents are the first to spot the need, but they often find resistance on the part of their parents, even if the offspring are offering the help themselves. Convincing the elders to accept help from paid agencies can be an even greater challenge. However, when the need arises, action often is necessary. How does a family go about getting their elders to accept help, and where so they start in providing outside help? The answer generally lies in gradual baby steps, whenever possible. Begin at the beginning.
The process of aging brings gains for those wise enough to see them, but it also brings inevitable losses. Decades of experience can be tapped by younger generations, stories of "how things were" can be recorded, and elders who have allowed life to mellow them, rather than embitter them, can be a source of encouragement and inspiration to younger generations.
However, with this process also come the losses endured by most people as their bodies age. Even those of us who eat well, exercise and "do everything right," as the saying goes, tend to become more high maintenance. We also, frequently, find that there are fairly essential tasks around our homes that we find increasingly difficult.
When adult children see that their parents' yard is not quite as nicely kept as it once was, they often do a variation of one of these things.
- Ignore it
- Tell their parents they aren't capable of keeping a house anymore and they should sell it
- Tactfully suggest that several people they know have hired a neighborhood services company to mow lawns, shovel snow and do small tasks around the house, thus freeing the owners to do things they really enjoy
If the third option appeals to you, you are showing signs of being a successful caregivers. No one likes to be told they are doing a lousy job at anything, let alone something they used to shine at. Some gentleness, compassion and tact can go a long way toward preserving your parents' dignity and getting them to gradually allow you to help out. Just watch yourself for signs that you are trying to take over.
Try the Least Invasive Type of Help First - Home Maintenance
If your parents are still in their own home and they want to stay there, home maintenance service is where I would start. As I mentioned above, it may be tactful to say that John Jones down the street has gotten this company to help out and he is thrilled with his new freedom. It also keeps John off of ladders, which is a good idea. Do so with humor. If you've checked out the maintenance company ahead of time and gotten references, you may find someone your parents know on the list. If you don't, just use a "friend" of yours as an example. The point is, don't hammer your folks by telling them they are too old to do the work, or do it properly. Give them a way to save face.
Once you've gotten them to accept a little yard help, and maybe some indoor fix-it help to boot, wait a bit and see how it goes. As time goes on, you may mention to your mom that some help with cleaning would be good, so she doesn't have to climb and bend. She'd also have more free time for fun.
Allow Time For Adjustment, Then Suggest the Next Step
If more care is needed, the next step would be in-home help. In-home agencies offer custodial care that is often a lifeline for people who want to stay in their homes longer. If Mom needs someone to stay with her while Dad does the grocery shopping, an in-home health agency can provide this person. If Dad needs help in the shower, but Mom can't handle him, again an in-home agency can come to the rescue. Many agencies want a block of time, say three hours, before they send someone. During the time the agency caregiver is in the home, the well spouse can run errands or have time to himself.
If there is only one elder in the home, this in-home person can be an important part of getting out for errands, if the elder no longer drives (or shouldn't drive). Also, bathing and light meals, as well as companionship, can be a big help.
I do think most people can convince their loved ones to get the help they need, if some tact and respect for dignity is used. Approach you elders in a casual way, mention others who have taken the road to an easier life by getting a small amount of help from outside business, and don't dwell on the losses that come with age. Approach it as a quality of life issue. When you talk with your elders, send the message that you want them to live healthier, not that you are waiting for them to die.