The story of a family recognizing something is amiss and hoping for the best…
By Jessica Derkis
“Sounds good but we’re not ready yet.”
Over the last few years, I have heard this many times in my office and from families navigating senior care options across the United States. Often around family-oriented holidays like Christmas, Easter, Mother’s Day, and Father’s Day, adult children visit their parents and find home, health, and hygiene not as they’d visualized from weekly phone calls. It seems to have become a universal thought pattern.
“We’re not ready yet,” tells the story of a family recognizing something is amiss and hoping for the best. It usually comes from families that are hesitant to make decisions for their loved ones, take away their autonomy, assail their dignity, or make them mad.
Consider this scenario, though: Your Dad, once busy with car repair, mowing the lawn, going out to dinner, even keeping house to some degree, spends much of his day in his recliner, watching classic movies and Fox News. On his side table are his trusty remote, a box of tissues to contend with a variety of concerns, and a jar of Peanut M&Ms—each offering a tenuous tether to the world outside his home, simple healthcare, and sustenance.
Suddenly, something happens. He takes his morning medication out of the bottles with his breakfast, cleans up, remembers you set up a weekly pill box for him, sees his morning pills are still there, and takes them. Or he feels funny in the middle of the night and, not wanting to bother anyone, vows to check into it in the morning. Or heating up a microwave dinner, he falls to the kitchen floor and lies there until a neighbor checks in with morning coffee. (According to a recent University of Michigan study, such falls are on the rise with nearly 40% of those over 65 expected to fall this year.)
This is where your preemptive research may pay off. Unfortunately, the conversation he hears will likely sound something like, “You messed up, Dad. Now you have to go to assisted living [or a nursing home]. I knew you were going to, so I’ve checked out a few and I think you’ll like this one.”
Instead of being something he might enjoy: making new friends, new amenities, fun activities, and someone available 24/7 if he needs help, it’s now a punishment for something possibly completely out of his control.
That is why I recommend that families find out what is important to their loved one about whom they’re concerned. For some, it’ll be social activities and outings to reconnect to the world. For others, it might be healthy meals and church services they may have neglected because of health and mobility issues. Many will want to stay at home with in-home care as long as physically and financially viable. Every person will have his or her own priorities. Look for a community (or home care provider) that meets his needs and perhaps can tried out for a month or a season.
If you are able to talk about coming decisions, use “I” statements to open the discussion. As guilty as you may feel, “I would feel better knowing someone is around when you need something” or “I want you to just try this out,” or “I feel bad I can’t be here every day, I need help,” will be a lot better than, “You’ve been missing medications” or “You’re not safe anymore.” There is rarely a perfect time to have this conversation, but before a crisis is better than after.