At 92 years old my grandfather, who still lived independently in a little apartment, decided to stop driving. While this was the best decision in terms of safety – his and everyone else’s on the road – it drastically limited what he was able to do for himself. I began adding grocery shopping into my monthly visits, upped my visits to weekly, added in occasional doctor’s appointments, etc. I didn’t mind seeing him more often and making sure he had what he needed. But, as the only family member that lived within two hours, it did become more than I was capable of on my own while working full-time and raising my daughter. I broached the subject of hiring help – someone to run errands, do the laundry, tidy the apartment and such. It seemed like a simple, thoughtful solution to meet his needs. He angrily muttered back, “why can’t you count on your neighbors anymore?” Being two generations removed from the time when his family moved onto a family friend’s farm to weather the Great Depression, I was a bit exasperated that he thought his neighbors, rather than a professional service provider, was the answer to making sure he was stocked up on Frosted Flakes and cottage cheese.
My grandfather did eventually give in and get some in-home care that he, and the rest of the family needed. But it came 2-3 years later than he needed to wait, created resentment and blame among the family for who did/did not take charge, and never gave him what he needed more than the errands, which was connection with his family. Caring for a loved one as they age is tricky with challenges that can be physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, administrative, financial, legal and more. The need can start out small and occasional and become huge and overwhelming – sometimes over time, sometimes overnight. Whether you are an aging individual or have an aging loved one, creating the right care team is critical and knowing whether your family makes a great team or not is imperative.
An ideal scenario to determine whether your family is up to the task and aligned as a team would be to sit down and discuss the needs, wants, questions, and concerns together. Seems like a no-brainer, right? Oh, if only it worked that way in all families! You may find yourself the natural born leader or reluctant recipient of the care for your aging loved one. Either way here are a few steps you can take to create your care team.
1. You can do this on your own. Do you have a completely free and flexible schedule? No other commitments? Do you have an excellent relationship with your loved one and all other family members? Are you independently wealthy and do not need any other financial assistance to manage your loved one’s mounting medical and care-related bills? Perfect, you’re set!
If Step 1 does not characterize your situation, please see Step 2.
2. Make a list. Start with your family members, add in close friends and those in relationship to you and your loved one. Maybe a neighbor does fit into this category.
3. Identify any useful skills or experience that each individual might bring. It’s ok if the collection of skills and experiences do not immediately appear helpful. It might be that your brother’s project management skills from his corporate job come in handy to organize the plan and schedule. And your Aunt Nancy’s big, fun personality brings humor and laughter to the difficult and stressful situation.
4. Start delegating. Quickly revisiting Step 1... you cannot do this on your own. You will need to ask for help. Unapologetically. Start small, if necessary, but pass on a little something to everyone so that the whole team carries the load and delivers the love.
5. Call in the experts. There will inevitably be aspects of the plan and process where your team will benefit greatly from the expertise of professional help. Or, you may decide as a team that you would be best served by calling in professional support from the beginning. Whether you need help from Day 1 or just need a helping hand tackle the latest challenge, service providers such as ElderCare Navigators can be your one-stop shop or one-time support.
Now that you have your team created, responsibilities delegated, and experts lined up, it is important to remember that best-laid plans do not always play out as we wish. Family dynamics are just that – dynamic. What was a point of tension prior to taking on caretaking tasks for a shared loved one can remain, or intensify. Watching a loved one suffer, or die can be a unifying experience for families or drive wedges that may not have been there before. And caretaking itself is a lot of work. According to the Caregiving in the U.S. 2020 report by AARP and the National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC), “about 53 million Americans provide care without pay to an ailing or aging loved one, and they do so for an average of nearly 24 hours per week.” Caregivers today are carrying the weight of the “largest generation of older people in US History” according to the United States Census.
So, as you survey your team prospects and score them according to their ability to help and your capacity to work with them, do not forget that being the leader is rarely as glamorous as it seems from the outside. And, that the thanks and recognition for bringing your best each day is likely not going to be given. Care-taking, even with extra hands on deck, is not for the glory but only for the giving.
Time is finite. Love is eternal. Forgiveness is everything.
By, Laura Olson