Navigating Eldercare

Posted by: | December 1, 2011

Over the last six months or so, I’ve become responsible for my Dad as his health declines.  I called our Employee Family Assistance Program Provider (Homewood Human Solutions) to ask if they could help me to better understand care facilities for my Dad’s future care a few months ago.  It was helpful, but merely a small step in a very long, complicated process.

I am sure it comes as no surprise to anyone when I say that it’s a difficult thing to see your parent faltering.  So at the same time as navigating the tangible realities of financial and legal matters, I know that I have been going through a lot of grieving and navigating conflict.  It’s also a steep learning curve, to learn which documents do what and which banks need what, what doctors want and where there is help (and where there is none).  Add into the mix the emotional upheaval of trying to figure out the new dynamics of trying to allow your Dad to have as much independence as possible, while recognizing that his abilities are changing and perhaps sometimes his perception of his capabilities are unrealistic.  Then ice that cake with the expectations you have of how people should help with certain things, or how your family or friends should understand all the turmoil of slowly but surely losing your  Dad, and you’ve got a rather stressed out life that you’re living.

It’s a difficult thing to share on this blog.  I hate feeling like I’m exposing my family’s hardest situations, but at the same time, I think that not enough people are talking about this.  Becoming responsible for my Dad has been a bit all encompassing for me, because it is so new and unexpected. So I’ve enrolled full-time in the Eldercare Education Program at a university with too steep of a learning curve, while trying to also be a full-time UBC staff member, and still live the life I think I deserve to live- one that’s filled with adventure and fun.

For all of those folks out there facing eldercare issues, I now understand firsthand how this unique scenario can become a health issue.  In fact, there’s a lot of information showing that caregivers show higher levels of depression and higher levels of stress (and we all know stress is linked to cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and all things unpleasant).

But it’s my Dad. So there’s really no contesting this health choice, is there?  This isn’t like me choosing to stop eating trans fats or cut out sugar or quit smoking; this is about my Dad’s life.  So my job now is to try to navigate this monster called eldercare.

I feel as though I am privileged in this scenario, because I have a job that has allowed me to learn about various options and resources.  Despite this, however, I find that there are times when I find no resources, or that resources are not enough, and I, in turn, find myself overwhelmed. I think to myself, “If I am struggling, how does someone who doesn’t have as many connections in health, manage all of this?”

So with all that in mind, I thought I would share what I have learned of late.  Join me in my reflection on all that I have learned on the steep learning curve in my Eldercare Education (knowing that I have lots more to learn before I graduate from this program, let me assure you!):

  • Share the load.  Try coordinating different duties amongst different people, clearly defining what needs to be done. (I have a name for this group of clinicians and family and friends: “Team Jolly.” That way I can have a little cheer sometimes to make me laugh [instead of cry] when things are a bit difficult. Go Team Jolly!)
  • Include your dependent parent. My Dad is part of Team Jolly too. He is still able (and wants to feel able too!) to do a lot of things, so let him do those things (instead of being a controlling person who tries to do everything because it makes her feel better about a situation that seems out of her control. [Not that I’m implying that I did this…])
  • Have someone take the lead- to be the keeper of the information to liaise with other members of the team.
  • Avoid assumptions about your other teammates.  Sometimes you assume people are shirking when they might be just struggling to come to terms with the new family dynamics, for example.
  • Maintain open lines of communication, so that you, your teammates,  your dependent parent and healthcare providers can be as much on the same page as possible. Write things down for your dependent parent, if things become confusing or difficult to remember.
  • Make sure you find time to not just run errands with your dependent parent- it’s important to share some quality time that helps you to maintain your relationship too.
  • Get the paperwork done as soon as possible. Line up your lawyer and get as many pieces of paper signed as soon as possible, so that when the time comes for you take on more responsibility, all you have to do is dig it out of your drawer. (as opposed to subjecting your Dad to more lawyer’s visits [which costs more money and costs him frustrations and painful travel]).
  • Be clear with all the financial institutions and the utility companies about your parent’s situation.  The fact is, they make you jump through so much red tape that you will tear your hair out. Just expect it to be a painful and maybe some of them, once you tell them your story, will make it a bit easier.  [Thanks be to those who understand and try to make it all less painful!]
  • Most of all though, remember to take care of yourself.  Reach out your support system. Find your loved ones and hold them close, and share your frustration.  Make sure to take time doing the things that you really find help you cope with stress (I, for example, took time to go camping just with my dog).

If this helps even one person to navigate eldercare a little better than I am currently, then this is worth it. If any of you have any other suggestions, please feel free to share.  After all, I’m still enrolled in the Eldercare University and still need to take more classes.

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