I’ll never forget the look in my grandmother’s eyes when she told my husband she thought it best if she sold her car and asked him if he would “please take care of that more me”. She was in the earliest stages of Alzheimer’s and had gotten ‘lost’ driving home from the grocery store earlier in the week—a drive she’d been making for over forty years. I’m so thankful she came to the decision on her own, because I knew if she didn’t I was going to have to make it for her. As the years passed and the Alzheimer’s got worse, I didn’t always have the luxury of letting Granny come to decisions on her own, but I never made a decision about her without talking to her about it first—even when she really couldn’t comprehend what I was saying.
These are the words of woman who spent six years caring for her grandmother throughout the duration of the elderly woman’s battle with Alzheimer’s. As you can see it’s not always easy or pleasant, but the key to transitioning care and decision-making responsibilities from the seniors in your life to you, the caregiver, is to work as a team.
Every team has to have a captain
Every team has to have a captain; meaning someone has to have the final say. Someone has to be in charge, and as the seniors in your life become less capable of comprehending the details necessary for sound decision-making and maneuvering through life, YOU are going to need to step up to the role of team captain.
When preparing to assume the role of team captain the first thing you need to do is make sure your senior needs a captain. Just because someone reaches the age of senior-citizen status doesn’t automatically qualify them as helpless or incompetent. So when deciding if you need to be transitioning yourself into the role of caregiver on any level, you need to ask yourself the following:
- Is your senior in good health?
- Is your senior still active and social?
- Is your senior able to hold a conversation about current events?
- Is your senior still fully capable of paying bills on time, managing financial affairs, and appear strong and confident?
- Is your senior able to hear and see well?
If you answered yes to all or even most of these questions, your only role should be a supportive one—letting them know you are there to help with anything THEY feel they need help with. It is, however, wise to work with your senior to add someone’s name to their bank accounts, HIPPA, house, cars, etc. in order to avoid problems in the event of their becoming incapacitated or death.
There are also steps you can take to help your senior maintain as much control over their life as possible. All of the following are easily accomplished, cost-effective, and require little or no maintenance or upkeep:
- Home alarm systems
- Personal alarm systems ( push buttons worn on the body in case of a fall, injury, illness, or safety concern)
- Medic-alert jewelry
- Canes and walkers for an extra measure of stability when needed or desired
- Magnifying glasses
- Easy-to-read blood sugar monitors and blood pressure monitors
If on the other hand, you begin to notice any of the following, you need to have ‘the talk’ (no not, that one, the other one)—the one in which you suggest working as a team to make sure they get the best medical care, remain safe in their own home, and that they don’t get taken advantage of. Is your senior…
- Forgetting to take their medicine?
- Missing doctor appointments?
- Forgetting to pay the bills?
- Leaving food out to spoil?
- Not eating regularly or changing their eating habits?
- Exhibiting behavior not normal for them?
- Losing or misplacing things?
- Lapsing in their self-care (hygiene)?
- Withdrawing socially?
If you answered yes to two or more of these, you need to be stepping up to the plate and making some JOINT decisions to protect the senior in your life. You should also be quick to provide your senior with any of the following that will serve to help alleviate the above concerns:
- A walker
- Safety grab bars in the shower/tub, by the toilet, and at all stairways and inclines
- Medication boxes that separate medications out for each day of the week
- Alarms to remind seniors to take their medication at set times
- Hygiene helps such as hand-held shower heads, bath chairs, and raised toilet seats are just a few of the dozens of items available to make a senior’s life easier and safer
You need to be prepared for some degree of resistance. It’s only natural and you shouldn’t take it personally. Think about it—how would YOU feel if your kids told you they didn’t think you were capable of caring for yourself anymore? Exactly!
The right way to transition
Look back at the ‘testimony’ given at the beginning of this article—especially the last statement: … I never made a decision about her without talking to her about it first—even when she really couldn’t comprehend what I was saying.
That’s the key—never making a decision without first talking it over with your senior. When doing so you need to keep in mind that ultimately you need to do what is best for your loved one (and quite possibly, the safety and well-being of others). Even if they don’t like what is happening, talking with them about it first is ALWAYS better than doing something without their knowledge or input. Always. You can also alleviate the stress by taking measures like those mentioned earlier to make the home safer and more accessible to a senior with changing needs.
The most important changes are those that increase the level of safety in the home:
- Installing grab bars in the bathroom
- Personal alarm systems (if dementia is an issue, these are not a good idea, as the user often pushes them unnecessarily)
- Non-skid flooring surfaces
- Rearranging household items most frequently used to ensure they are within easy reach
In addition to talking with your senior, it is wise to consult their doctors, bankers, and their retirement account personnel to make sure you know what their benefits are and what assets they have.
Independence and dignity are two things no one wants to live without, so in talking things over with your senior, you will allow them to maintain all of their dignity and the greatest amount of independence possible.