I have the best Sunday School class. We are a group of women ranging in age from about mid-30s to mid-60s, and how those ladies love. We share prayer requests and praise reports with our Facebook page– bring meals when somebody’s sick– take up money when somebody has a need– we try to give shoulders to lean on when we need them. Since we are all at different stages of life, there are some wonderful mentoring opportunities among our group. Several are dealing with aging parents, and don’t know what questions to ask, what to expect, or where to turn– so one who has dealt with all of that was happy to share her lessons learned. I hope it will help you, now or in the future!
Old People Stuff (For lack of a better title)
1. Have hard discussions gradually. When it came time for my mother to sell the family property and move to an apartment, it was her decision. However, she had been processing for quite a while and we had dropped “hints” along the way. No one had to push her once she had her mind made up. For our family as in many, we had to honor our mother’s independence as long as we could and we were able to do that with most major decisions. When it was time to move her closer to one of the four siblings, we had to let it be her decision too although I think we all knew that we would ultimately have to move her even if she disagreed. We started out by bringing Mom brochures of the assisted living places and then scheduling a tour. Our daughter was expecting our first grandchild (her great grandchild) so I told her I needed her close to me to teach me how to be a granny. She liked that idea. However, the funniest discussion we had was about how often I would visit her at the assisted living facility. I finally had to assure her that I would not be a burden by visiting every day but would could only when she invited me. She agreed by saying “I guess holidays would be okay!”
2. LONG TERM CARE Insurance is the best. If you do not have it, get it for many reasons. [Note from Auntie Em: Dave Ramsey recommends it when you turn 60.] It is not just for nursing home care. Our good friend who is battling terminal cancer is able to use the money to pay for in home care, including relatives who are certified nurses assistants. For my mother, it meant have a choice of going to an assisted living facility and when the time came to be able to go to a private nursing home versus a state-run facility, and believe me, there is a world of difference.
3. It’s very important for siblings to work together on the care of a parent. My family was blessed in a way because there wasn’t too much property left to argue over, and most of the “issues” we had as children growing up in the country with limited resources had been settled (you really learn to compromise when you have 6 people sharing one bathroom) or forgotten. Because I was the most stable one at the time, mother moved near me and as her health declined I had medical power of attorney (this is very important for the caregiver), and could also manage her checking account to pay bills. But my siblings also were involved, using their talents and resources to help out. My sister was a good listener and provided financial resources if needed, but don’t ask her to provide care on a daily basis. One brother was a banker and handled insurance, taxes, will, etc. But I had to keep him out of the hospital if my mother was there because he couldn’t sit still. Thankfully, my other brother who is a minister and has a “pastor’s heart” was a good hospital sitter and would always show up just when I was reaching the end of my rope. (Lesson here: Don’t be Superwoman! Ask for help.) I think the lesson here is to, if possible, keep the family engaged in the care of a parent. When our mother died, each of us could say that we had done everything we could do as a family and as a child so there no regrets or hard feelings that one had to bear the burden alone.
4. Hospice is not just for terminally ill people with cancer. I learned through a friend who also cared for an elderly parent that hospice could provide services, even when my mother was in the private nursing facility. They can contact doctors and provide medication and equipment. Taking my mother to doctor’s appointments had become almost impossible and required an ambulance. Hospice was able to contact doctors and had physicians who would come by the facility. The hard part of arranging hospice care was signing off on the DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) document but because my mother and I had already had some of those “hard discussions” I knew her wishes. Again, I kept all of the siblings involved but I was the one who had to sign it because I had the medical power of attorney. Hospice provided literature that helped understand the dying process and how the body and spirit begins to prepare for the transition. This helped me understand why Mom had no appetite so I stopped trying to make her eat by cooking all her favorites and bringing her milkshakes. When the end neared, the hospice service provided a full time nurse trained with dying patients who was able to keep Mom comfortable and minister to the family as well. Following the funeral, a pastor from hospice called several times to check on me and the family.
5. Read up on medications, side effects and interactions. I was definitely not a medical professional but I did get pretty skilled at knowing what drugs were taken for what condition. One thing I learned is that old people don’t like to drink water because it means having to go to the bathroom which for my mother was an ordeal!!! (We finally did convince her to wear Depends.) Not drinking water would bring on dehydration and UTI which would go undetected. A UTI can cause increased dementia in elderly patients and it can come on suddenly. Several times I thought my mother was having mini strokes until I learned to recognize the signs of UTI. Also, low potassium levels can also cause dementia like symptoms. Dehydration can cause the potassium levels to drop when patients are on some of the heart medications. This is serious and takes more than eating a banana to get blood levels balanced.
(Back to Auntie Em) I hope this has given you some food for thought! Another friend had burdens lifted when she sought out the social worker at the hospital where her mom was being treated. Ask questions! Many facilities have social workers, or they can point you in the right direction. They deal with your issues all the time, and can give you insights and lots of practical help.
“Honor your father and mother.” This is the first commandment with a promise: “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” Ephesians 6:2-3