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Your Health

When Seniors Say No to Help

The desire to be a perfect family caregiver can be difficult to satisfy. Here's what you can do

A family caregiver’s job, by definition, is already a difficult one. Time away from work and family, and the worry of caring for a loved one all can take a toll. When you consider that many seniors often resist help, that job becomes overwhelming for so many family caregivers.

A study of family caregivers conducted for the Home Instead Senior Care network revealed more than half of the respondents said their aging relative was very resistant to care. These seniors often object to help, whether it’s from a family caregiver or a professional who tries to come into their homes to assist.

This is a real problem for family caregivers worried about the safety of a loved one who might be forgetting food on the stove or neglecting to take his or her medications. Some seniors are so resistant that I’ve heard stories of seniors calling the police when their family members have arranged for a caregiver to visit their home.

Resistance is at the root of many senior-care issues. Why? Some seniors believe admitting they need help brings their independence into question. Some seniors believe once they acknowledge the need for help, they will lose control of their affairs. They are trying to maintain dignity. Unless they feel they can trust someone, they often resist change. I also believe it’s the fear life as they’ve known it will be taken away from them.

Most caregivers can go into crisis mode to rally around a loved-one in the short-term, but you can’t be totally immersed in a crisis mode long-term without your own family, work and health suffering, according to family caregiving consultant Dr. Amy D’Aprix, author of From Surviving to Thriving: Transforming Your Caregiving Experience. The strain can take a particular toll on working family caregivers. The Home Instead Senior Care study revealed 42 percent of family caregivers spend more than 30 hours a week caregiving, which is the equivalent of nearly a second full-time job.

In the study, family caregivers also stated their own personal health and jobs were affected by caregiving. Fifty-eight percent said they were getting ill more frequently and caregiving is taking a toll on their jobs. Furthermore, 81 percent said their loved ones’ needs were becoming overwhelming.

That is what makes countering resistance to assistance so important. Many times family caregivers make assumptions but never ask, “Mom, I’ve noticed every time I bring up having someone come in to assist, you don’t want help. Why is that?” Sometimes the parent doesn’t realize he or she is being resistant.

Reassuring a senior loved one you have the same goal in mind will help. Start with, “My goal for you is to be independent, too. You know I can’t be here all the time. A little extra assistance will help you stay at home.”

The following are strategies from Home Instead Senior Care and Dr. D’Aprix to help family caregivers turn resistance into assistance.

» Understand where the resistance is coming from. Ask your loved one why he or she is resisting.

» Explain your goals. Remind your loved one you both want the same thing. Explain a little extra help can keep him/her at home longer and will help put your mind at ease as well. Have a candid conversation with him or her about the impact this care is having on your life. Oftentimes seniors don’t understand the time commitment of a caregiver.

» Bring in outside help. If your relationship is deteriorating, ask a professional, such as their doctor or a geriatric care manager, for an assessment. A third-party professional can provide valuable input and many times will be the individual to whom your loved one will listen.

» Research options to find the best resources for a senior in the community. The local Area Agency on Aging is a great community resource.

» Respect a senior’s decisions. Sometimes you won’t agree with an older adult’s decisions and that’s OK. As long as that senior is of sound mind, he or she should have the final say. Please remember, if a senior has dementia, other professionals should be consulted.

Once again, unless a senior has dementia, he or she has a right to make the final decision about care, even if a family caregiver or professional doesn’t agree. The flip side is family caregivers have the right to communicate their boundaries, as well.

Without additional resources and education, the desire to be a perfect family caregiver leads to burnout. Perspective can come from friends, support groups and professional and informal support networks. Join a support group. Professionals network for emotional support and to find answers to problems or situations. Why shouldn’t you?

Since 2002, Home Instead Senior Care has been helping older adults improve their quality of life in an environment of support and safety that allows them to remain at home. For more information or assistance with this problem or other issues associated with aging, call 805.560.6995.

— Susan Johnson represents Home Instead Senior Care.

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