Approaching a sensitive subject is an arduous task no matter the topic, but when typical family roles are reversed — with adult children recommending help for their aging parents — advice and suggestions can be met with a slough of negative emotions. And as more baby-boomers retire, aging parents will need assistance performing their day-to-day needs.
Larry Kreider, who with his wife, Tina, owns Right at Home, an in-home care and assistance provider, offered pointers to begin the caregiving conversation with a loved one.
“There are probably as many answers to the question of getting the conversation started as there are kids,” Kreider said. “One important thing to remember is that driving is a powerful symbol and facilitator of freedom and independence. Most people have been doing this task since their teens.”
Kreider suggests singling out one problem at a time so that a parent doesn’t feel attacked and greater focus can be added to the conversation. Driving, the gateway of performing many daily tasks, is often the contested subject. Before having this meeting, find out which activities make up the parent’s daily routine. Tagging along with a parent to learn his or her problems and limitations is another important component of starting the caregiving conversation.
“Try to assess if they need help and can’t drive anymore,” Kreider said. “Look for when they make left-hand turns because many elderly people get in accidents making those turns. Check out their back-up skills. Can they physically move their neck to look, or do they rely on mirrors? Sometimes elderly people get too cautious and don’t go above 40 mph. Also, check the vehicle for scrapes and dents.”
Parents will sometimes put limitations on themselves, such as not driving at night, in the rain or on the freeway, when they realize they aren’t as safe as they once were.
“It’s important to get them to be a partner with you and accept more limitations as they age,” Kreider said. “People don’t go from driving hundreds of miles per week to giving up driving cold turkey. Offer to drive them somewhere if they have to drive at night.”
He advised not getting into the discussion unprepared. It’s important to come up with alternatives and to pick someone to express the family’s concerns.
“Ask other family members, siblings or a spouse to try to facilitate this meeting,” he said. “Pick a spokesperson. Come up with alternatives to the problem before having this discussion.”
If a parent is resistant to the idea of changing routines or allowing for outside help, there are a few different tactics family can assume.
“You can give them the guilty feeling a little bit and tell them that they’re putting other people at risk on the highway,” Kreider said. “You can strong-arm people, hide keys or disable a vehicle, but those are last-ditch efforts that tend to create more friction between family members.”
Employed caregivers at Right at Home visit clients’ homes to help with groceries, appointments and other daily needs. Right at Home performs interviews, and background and reference checks when hiring caregivers to its agency.
“We never send a caregiver to a home before having them introduce themselves to the client. We don’t charge for letting the client interview them,” Kreider said. “We’re matchmakers as much as anything else. We match peoples’ experience, schedules and background information, and if it doesn’t work personality-wise, we’ll put someone else is that home. The client is paying the bill, so we want them to be comfortable.”
Achieving trust in an elderly couple’s home is the hardest thing for Right at Home to overcome.
“More often than not, someone will have dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, and it’s hard for them to trust an outsider,” Kreider said.
He said caregiving greatly increases the quality of life for elderly parents, improving mental and physical health.
“When we go into a home and take care of elderly people, their health maintains for much longer than it would have otherwise,” he said. “Significant others don’t always see negative health aspects that happen gradually. Caring for someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease is draining on anyone, but it takes an especially hard toll on an elderly spouse. We help people stay in their homes longer.”
For more information on Right at Home, click here or call 805.962.0555.