“Charlie” was devastated when his middle child took a new job and moved out of state. At 65, Charlie’s health was waning, and although he was in denial, deep inside he knew that he didn’t have years to live. He loved his family, and the idea of losing regular time with his son, daughter-in-law, and grandson was very difficul
It’s not uncommon for seniors to balk at the idea of having help at home. It’s also not uncommon for the adult children taking care of elderly parents to push for it. They push for Mom to accept help, and Mom pushes back to do it all herself. This can be an aggravating source of tension, frustration, and resentment among family members.
Honestly, if you’ve never had help in your home before, it can be difficult to accept. Many of my clients initially rebuff the idea with statements such as, “I’ve always taken care of myself before,” “What will I have them do for me?” and “I’m independent. I don’t need anyone to help me.”
Adult children frustrated with their parents’ inability to accept help don’t always understand how difficult the idea of having help is for their parents. With patience and some open and honest communication, however, both sides can be heard, and both parties can come to a consensus.
For most senior companion care companies, the initial interview is a process of getting to know their clients, exploring why clients feel they don’t need or want help and attempting to break down those barriers. Often, when clients discover that our intention is not to take over their homes or their lives and that they can be in charge of how to use the time they are allotted, they relax and are more open to hearing about what the options for help include. Then, together, we make a plan.
One of the things that most clients do not initially understand is that by accepting help, they are actually enabling themselves to be more independent! While this seems paradoxical, it’s true. For instance, a client may be able to dust and wipe up her kitchen countertops but not have the energy to carry the laundry down the hall to the laundry room. She may be unable to safely navigate the basement steps, push the vacuum, or mop the floors.
While many homemaking tasks need not be done every day, or even every week, over time, if left undone, these tasks can create clutter, uncleanliness, and disorder in the home. There comes a time when piled up dirty dishes or old food in the refrigerator becomes a health or safety issue. By having help, these issues, as well as others, can be avoided. Averting potential health and safety concerns—such as carrying laundry down the stairs or eating out-dated food—actually allows clients to stay in their own homes or apartments longer, which is most often their preference and usually less costly than a placement out of the home.
It’s true that as clients become more disabled by their physical or mental ailments, their energy levels decrease. If we have a discussion about how they want to spend the time and energy they do have, it usually becomes apparent that they would rather spend their time with friends and family, or on activities, hobbies and other meaningful pursuits, rather than doing housework.
Sometimes, elderly people don’t need extra help, at least at the time I meet them. To appease their children, sometimes they accept help. After all, when children live across the country and can’t be there to frequently check in on Mom or Dad, it eases their anxiety to know that someone is doing just that. At other times, I’ll get a call from a client a year after I have met them telling me that their situation has changed and that, for whatever reason, they are now ready to accept help.
Quality home care companies won’t push services on anyone. We try, together with the client’s family and the client, to make a plan that everyone can live with and that is safe for the client. As needs and situations change, care plans also change. Agencies can add or take away services as needed.
There are a few stumbling blocks on the path to getting help in the home for elderly parents. It’s important to note that if a client has not been determined to be incompetent, that person has a right to refuse services even if they need them. In other words, a client has a right to make a bad choice, as long as they are aware of the consequences of their decision.
It’s also important to note that sometimes adult children have higher standards of cleanliness than their elderly parents. Mom may be used to having clutter on the end tables and papers stacked on the table, while her daughter sees it as a mess. This, too, needs to be negotiated and taken into consideration.
Senior care in the home should ultimately be a rewarding experience for everyone involved. Our clients should feel comfortable and that their non-medical senior care services are helping them to maintain independence. Our client’s adult children should have peace of mind that their parents’ needs are being met and that they are safer (and happier) living at home. Our at-home caregivers should also feel they have good relationships with their clients and are making a significant contribution to improving quality of life for the seniors they serve.
Senior care done right is a win-win-win situation for the parties involved—adult children, clients, and caregivers.
Julie Ellingson, LSW
August 19, 2014
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