Sue Lucas, CSA
Published May 13, 2013
The following article was written by Sue Lucas, member of Trilogy at Redmond Ridge and Director of Senior Helpers of Kirkland, Washington. To learn more about Sue’s background, see the Author Profile posted at the end of the article.
Businesses often approach issues by scheduling a meeting of the most knowledgeable and concerned parties. You can do the same when discussing family issues.
There are various barriers, real and imagined, to scheduling family meetings. Geography is the big one. Often families are widely dispersed across the country. Lives are already busy and often over scheduled without adding yet another commitment. You may be thinking that your siblings would never agree to a meeting. But have you asked them? Families can be so heavily burdened by the responsibilities of caregiving that it might be surprising what people will readily agreed to if it might improve upon the status quo.
It's important to bring the family and support network together to discuss a loved one’s changing situation and available options. This is a crucial step in elder care planning and in making the right decisions.
Holding a meeting is the best way to get everyone together to solve specific problems and to share everyone’s wants and needs. Sometimes a family member may feel that he or she isn’t doing enough, when instead this individual might be doing too much and taking on too much of a burden. It is also typical for some siblings or other caregivers to feel that they are doing more than their share, and that another family member is not doing his or her part.
Caring for a frail older person is never easy. Holding a family support meeting is almost always going to improve the situation - if it is well planned, well attended, and conducted appropriately.
The first step is to invite all siblings, and any other family members that are participating in helping the elder family member. If siblings or family members are from out of town, use Skype or a videoconference to include them in the meeting. Of course the most important person to include is the loved one in concern, even if it means holding the meeting in a hospital room or with a person with profound Alzheimer's. Issues such as hearing loss, dementia, or reluctance to acknowledge or discuss the problems are special challenges. It's important to respect the choices and dignity of an individual, regardless of his or her age or medical condition. Including the loved one and his or her concerns will produce the most informed and beneficial outcome.
Remember, in most cases these individuals had already planned out the rest of their lives. What they didn't plan on was an illness that would prevent them from taking care of themselves. They still need to feel that they can make their own decisions about how they will spend their remaining time.
I tell seniors how crucial it is communicate their wants and needs to all family members. It's important for them to let their family members know, while they’re still healthy, what they want if they are not able to remain in their current home. It's also important for the family members to approach their elderly loved ones, preferably while they’re still healthy, to find out their desires if they should become disabled or unable to take care of themselves.
When planning the agenda for your family support meeting, be as inclusive as possible. Everyone will have widely differing ideas of what is important - and just recognizing and acknowledging that fact will be useful in itself. Be sure to give the loved one needing care a starring role in the meeting.
When you ask your dad/mom, "What are the biggest problems you're facing right now?" you may expect him/her to say “my failing health.” Instead, he/she is very likely to say, “You are all trying to get me to move - that’s my biggest problem!” You might consider rephrasing to say, “Let’s discuss the pros and cons of dad/mom moving.” This might lead to a discussion of “why we want you to move.” Be frank and specific - “We are afraid you’ll fall and not be able to get up.” This might lead to a discussion of all the possible solutions to this problem, including personal alert systems, cell phones, the daily phone call or visit, as well as the benefits and potential drawbacks of an actual move. The solution could be as simple as hiring an in-home care company to come in and visit once or twice a week to help with his/her activities of daily living.
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