Every day, Linda Snyder goes to her mother’s house in rural Pennsylvania, gets her out of bed, gives her breakfast and dresses her. Every night, she returns to put her to bed. Sometimes, when Snyder arrives, her mother will greet her with, “‘Oh, it’s you again.’ That doesn’t help,” says Snyder. Her mother, now 91, tried moving in with her briefly after a stroke two years ago, but it didn’t work out.
This arrangement isn’t working, either. Recently, Snyder, 58, found her mother on the bathroom floor. “I’m pretty much at the breaking point. I can’t do this anymore,” says Snyder. She wants her to go to a nursing home where she will get full-time care, but her siblings, who don’t live nearby, “aren’t on the same page,” she notes. Michelle, one of Snyder’s five daughters, says “it’s such a struggle for my sisters and me to watch this unfold.”
Like Snyder, adult children may realize they need to make a change regarding family caregiving. Rather than being selfish or uncaring, they are finding the situation untenable and are saying “enough.” It may affect their finances, health or other relationships. It may be too hard emotionally or physically; the parent might have treated them poorly when they were growing up, barely had a relationship with them or is verbally abusive now.
“Other people don’t always like or understand our decisions,” says Steven Zarit, a professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies at Pennsylvania State University who has run caregiving support groups. “We all have limits on what we are able to do and if we have done the best we can and can’t go on, we shouldn’t feel guilty. Siblings can be good with the guilt, but not the help!”
When you’ve decided that you can’t continue caregiving — or in the way you have before — how do you break it to the family, prepare for a changing of the guard and handle your own feelings?
Here is what experts suggest:
1. Prepare to Reframe the Decision
“Rather than an either/or decision, I encourage adult children to think of it as, ‘I’ve been providing care in one way, and now I need to provide it in another way.’ It doesn’t mean you have to stop,” says geropsychologist Sara Honn Qualls, director of the Gerontology Center at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs.
2. Prepare Your Discussion With Family
This can be tricky. Your decision to not be the caregiver, or to be a different kind of caregiver, will probably impact others. They may resent it. Will they now have to step up more than they had planned? Will they need to put more time into finding alternatives? At the very least, it is going to change the status quo.
Undoubtedly, there will be family dynamics, a.k.a. old baggage. As children, siblings may have planned movie night together, let’s say, but nothing like the complexities of caring for aging parents. “When we change something, the most convenient explanation for our siblings is based on old history not related to now,” says Qualls. “We have no shared history on decision making, so it’s no surprise we revert to childhood patterns.”
Qualls finds it effective when she holds family meetings to ask, “What is most important to you about your mother’s life from today until the day she dies?” That can focus others on the issue — their mom — rather than siblings’ perceived shortcomings from decades ago. It is also an opportunity to brainstorm and collaborate.
When you explain that you can’t keep up caregiving as it has been, it’s best to let siblings know that you are not telling them what to do, “but here are my thoughts.” It’s helpful to consider options before the family get-together. Also, seek ideas from them.
If the discussion gets heated, rather than argue, tell family members you have done the best you can — and really believe it. Change is hard for everyone. If there’s pushback, stay calm. You might say, “Maybe I could have done this or that but I have truly reached the end of the line and I can’t do it anymore.” If it’s realistic, tell them they are welcome to take over.
For some families, it makes sense to find a neutral, third party with clinical training to run, or at least attend, the meeting. That might be a geriatric care manager, an elder mediator or a family therapist. Your local Area Agency on Aging may also be able to give you a recommendation.
3. Remember to Acknowledge Your Feelings
Do you think people are judging you for not being a good enough daughter or sibling or for abandoning the original caregiving plan? Do you believe that yourself, too? Do you feel someone else could have done it, “what’s wrong with me?” Or, that you are supposed to be able to handle it and should just suck it up? If so, try to have self-compassion and be kind to yourself.
Are you angry and resentful? Does one sibling not lift a finger or your out-of-town sister constantly criticize your caregiving decisions? Are you sad you can’t do more? An only child who can’t do it all? Whatever the circumstances, feeling exhausted, inadequate or resentful, is often what happens when caregivers set boundaries or change the rules.
Having a way to deal with your emotions (see a therapist, join an in-person or online support group or forum) will help you see that you are only human — and to remember your mantra, “I have done the best I can.”
Have you had to stop caring for a parent? What suggestions do you have about how to tell family you can no longer be the caregiver? We’d like to hear your stories in the comments below.
The proliferation of the internet and technology has made it easier than ever for seniors to keep in touch with their loved ones. In fact, today’s teens are communicating with their grandparents more than they have in the past thanks to online communication.
Here are some ways technology can help grandparents and grandchildren stay connected year round.
How Technology Bridges the Generational Communication Gap
With society’s increased reliance on technology, many people fear that we are losing the in-person interactions that help us better understand each other. Though spending quality face time is important, connecting online through social media and tools like Skype is a great option for grandparents and grandchildren separated by geography or unconventional family structures.
Teenagers prefer to use technology to communicate with their relatives, partly because of the instantaneous nature of the internet. In a study on intergenerational online communication, for example, one teenage girl reflected on the difference between keeping in touch with her grandmother who uses email and her other grandmother who refrains from any sort of computer use. She shared that it was easier to write to her grandmother who used the computer, especially since she is constantly online herself. Meanwhile, she described correspondence with her other grandmother as “having to write her whole letters back and the events are delayed and I am trying to think back to what happened.”
Grandparents and Grandchildren Connecting, Learning Together Online
Seniors and teenagers benefit from this sharing of knowledge in a number of ways. In addition to being a positive role model for younger family members, connecting through technology allows seniors to offer their grandchildren:
A listening ear — because they aren’t parents, grandparents have a unique opportunity to help troubled teens
A stronger sense of cultural heritage and family history
Time together online — seniors frequently have more time than family members who work
Teenagers have a lot to offer their grandparents too, including:
A sense of purpose and value
Companionship and love
Knowledge around how to use the internet for more than communicating, e.g. to conduct research, play games, shop, etc.
Motivation for staying active and engaged
Ways to Get Started
Whether you rarely go near a computer or surf the web often, there are plenty of benefits to interacting with your grandchildren online.
The apps below offer some great ways to connect, especially for families who live apart:
Ancestry websites are a great way for grandparents and older grandchildren to explore their family’s history together. Some popular ones include Ancestry.com and MyHeritage.com.
Keepy: Share art-work, school projects and other things that grandparents love to put on their fridge, but might not have room for.
Kindoma: Draw, play or read together in real time.
Redeo: Lets you read together while your young grandchild turns the pages.
Keeping tabs on Dad and Mom just got easier! New “Aging in place” technology allows parents to live independently and adult children to stay in the loop without being intrusive.
If something seems amiss — Dad hasn’t gotten out of bed or opened the refrigerator all day, let’s say — you get notified via email or text. Think GPS location tracking on a smartphone or tablet, remote monitoring of health conditions, medical alert systems and voice activation gadgets.
Newest Tech Gadgets for Seniors
By 2030, experts expect aging tech to be a $30 billion market. Here is a sampling of some of the coolest technology out there today, providing independence to our parents and valuable peace of mind for us as caregivers:
Adult children or siblings may live far from each other. Care coordination apps and devices are one way to solve, “Who’s on first?” and keep everyone informed. Others on the care team, from a professional caregiver to physicians, can also get on the same page for information and updates.
One care sharing tool is CaringBridge, primarily used during a health crisis. Family and friends log on to get progress reports and sign up for assignments. The iPhone and iPad app synchronize to a website.
Medication Management Devices
On average, someone age 65+ takes five medicines a day. Medication systems help aging parents stay on track — and let family members know if they aren’t.
CareZone is a free app you set that buzzes the phone when it’s time to take pills. You can share medication and other important information. The coolest feature: Take a photo of a pill bottle, upload it, and it gets transcribed and added to the medication list.
MedMinder is a digital pill dispenser. An adult child fills the medicine tray then programs the schedule online, and can check whether Dad has complied. At pill time, the dispenser flashes — and a version that will unlock as well. Forget? The gadget beeps, and will be followed up by a prerecorded message in a family member’s voice; Still not taking them? They get a call and the child is notified.
With Reminder Rosie, the adult child or professional caregiver programs the talking clock to say whatever they want. It might be, “Dad, it’s time for your green and orange pill. Don’t forget to take them with a cracker! I love you!” It’s also handy for a middle-of-the-day, “Hi, Mom, just thinking about you!”
Micheline Stabile’s 87-year-old aunt is in independent living outside Pittsburgh. Until Stabile began leaving her reminder voice messages, she would often forget to go to the dining room for meals.
“If it wasn’t for this clock, my aunt would be in a nursing home.”
One way to keep loneliness at bay is to interact with others — even if it’s on a screen. Take grandCARE. With a large touchscreen, residents at home or in long-term care have video chats with family, get the news, play games, visit websites and more. Other features: grandCARE offers medication prompts, sensor monitoring and telehealth device recording (glucose, pulse, weight). Caregivers can connect to a website portal from any internet-connected device.
Perhaps the most ingenious social engagement tool is GeriJoy. Often used by those with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s, it’s a touchscreen tablet that “talks.” Tap the screen and the snoozing virtual dog or cat “gets up”; chatting back and forth begins. The trained staff operates and speaks through the screen remotely. He knows the person’s interests and might ask if they’re looking forward to a football game that day, or how they slept. Family can fill in faraway staff on something happening that day or have them reminisce about the person’s past. While it isn’t a substitute for care, it can supplement it when you can’t be there.
S.O.S. Safety Devices
Personal emergency response systems (PERS) are getting more sophisticated. Medic alert-like pendants and wristbands can be pressed during an emergency to alert family members and professionals. Some companies like GreatCall and MobileHelp have mobile PERS that work anywhere, not just in your house — and include fall detection. If the PERS senses a fall, it alerts a call center even if the user hasn’t pressed the button.
Sensors like BeClose and Lively attach to objects your parent uses most: the bed, a toaster, the bathroom, a front door or a favorite chair, for instance. You remotely determine what circumstances merit notification (if Mom hasn’t made her coffee by 10 a.m., for example).You can check their activity on your smartphone.
“Because safety was a non-issue and I didn’t have to treat her like a two-year old, it changed our relationship.”
Lively is a multi-talented smartwatch! It’s a clock, medication reminder, pedometer and PERS. (Lively also offers separate sensors you can buy with the watch.) Pamela Wood Browne’s 88-year-old mother, who lives 15 minutes away near Greenville, South Carolina, uses a Lively watch and sensors.
“Short of living with her, it’s a glimpse into what and how she’s doing,” says Browne.
Manny Santayana, 59, shoots for a more direct approach: six cameras via Comcast’s Xfinity placed around his 85 year-old mother’s home in Pennsylvania. She lives alone and has Alzheimer’s. From his own home in Florida, or on the road, the salesman checks on her throughout the day.
“She doesn’t want to give up her house. This layered technology gives both of us freedom.”
From his iPhone, Santayana can make sure the help is punctual and his mom is safe. Twice, Santayana’s mother opened the front door and got locked out. An alert notified him; he could also see it on his screen.
Have any experience with aging in place technology? What have you used or wish there were a device for? Please share your story with us in the comments below.
As we mature, it’s natural to consider our own mortality and whether our legacy is embodied in the hearts and minds of loved ones. Most of us will be satisfied just to pass on our most cherished memories, but taking the time to preserve your living legacy can improve your life and that of your family’s for years to come.
How to Preserve Your Living Legacy
Working on your family’s living legacy will not only provide your loved ones with a precious, tangible attachment to you after you are gone, but will also improve your level of happiness, life satisfaction and psychological well being.
Read our top six tips for preserving your living legacy:
1. Collect Family Recipes
Food is much more than our body’s fuel; it is an integral part of culture that unites families and transcends generations. Many families strengthen their bond and maintain their identity by passing on recipes from generation to generation. For example, my own family collected all of my grandmother’s recipes, transcribed them and had several books printed for her children and grandchildren to keep and remember her by. A recipe book can be one of the most profound ways to leave an emotional legacy because scent is the sense most closely linked to emotion and memory. The simple smell of cookies baked using Grandmother’s special recipe can bring her to life in our mind’s eye.
2. Make an Audio or Video Recording
Audio or video recordings can be a powerful tool to help families remember their loved ones. You can get started with just a tape recorder or video camera. In Joan Lunden’s book for caregivers, she recommends using recordings, suggesting that families prepare a long list of interview questions. “This kind of video recording of your family history is priceless,” she says. For inspiration, you might explore the audio recordings of the StoryCorps Memory Initiative or the video interviews of Cornell University’s Legacy Project. For those who need help putting together these recordings, a number of services can help including businesses like Family Legacy Video that can produce a video for you. Seniors who are wary of being videotaped may prefer the audio format.
3. Make a Family Tree
The process of making a family tree gives you and your family an opportunity to reminisce about loved ones and tell stories together. Include photos where possible to help bring the tree to life. When it’s completed, you can share copies of this unique keepsake with all your family members. Dr. Jeannette Franks even suggests that families include their loved ones’ medical histories to help their younger relatives know what health issues they should be on guard against. While it may strike some as morbid, she advises families to note the relative’s cause of death on the family tree.
4. Make a Family Time Capsule
Rather than handing off all of your heirlooms and possessions immediately, you can make a time capsule for your descendants to open in the distant future. You could even create multiple time capsules that include mementos for relatives not even born yet to discover. For example, you might make a time capsule to be opened by your living relatives in the year 2030, and include interesting keepsakes that give our descendants a glimpse of our present. Your will can also include instructions for handling the time capsule (for example, who will be responsible for it and where it will be kept).
5. Transcribe Favorite Memories
In the digital age, audio and video are king, but they can never replace the power of the printed word. Seniors with the patience and talent to write their memoirs have a unique opportunity to tell their story exactly as they believe it should be told, and to speak directly to younger family members who they might never meet in person. The National Day of Listening also includes a list of “great questions” — that could serve as excellent writing prompts.
6. Sponsor a Park Bench or Tree
Philanthropy is a traditional means of legacy building. In choosing which causes and organizations to give to, seniors get to demonstrate their most revered values and the show importance of giving through their own actions. Of course, their donation will also make a make a real difference in a cause they care about. Potential donors can identify legitimate nonprofits at websites like Charity Navigator, which maintains a list of 4-Star Charities.
How have loved ones in your family worked to create their living legacy? We’d like to hear your stories in the comments below.
There are fundamental times in a person’s life when they are faced with their own mortality and left to question the meaning of their existence. The death of a loved one, health crises or milestone birthdays are all times when people think about their legacy and what they are leaving behind.
You have a deeply personal and significant opportunity to reflect on your life and “process through events and people who shaped it, while still planning for the future,” says Wendy Griffith, Licensed Clinical Social Worker at MD Anderson Cancer Center about leaving a legacy.
Griffith explains in her article “Making Memories Last: The Art of Legacy Work,” that legacy work (the activities and actions involved in creating your legacy) “can be a powerful coping tool not only for you but the people around you.”
How Leaving a Legacy Can Improve Your Life Right Now
The story of someone’s life – the goals they accomplished, their failures, places they went, things they did and more.
Legacy work should not be based on death and dying, rather it emphasizes life and living. Griffith explains that legacy building is about “making connections and sharing precious moments with the special people in your life.”
Research suggests that as you age, reviewing past life experiences (both accomplishments and hardships) can improve your level of happiness, life satisfaction and psychological well being.
Envision your life’s experiences as contents in a box; by taking out each item and mulling it around, you will have the opportunity to see the contributions you have made in your life, as well as the value your friendship and love has provided to others. This is how establishing a legacy improves relationships with others and supports self-esteem.
Opportunities for Your Legacy
In addition to the benefits you’ll get from your legacy, Griffith suggests that “leaving a legacy gives your loved ones something to hold on to, something that can provide health and comfort year after year.”
Creating your legacy can take many forms, depending on your own unique personality. Your legacy can be planned or unplanned; elaborate or simple; financial or sentimental.
Compiling a jewelry box for family or friends of pieces with sentimental meaning to you
Compiling a video montage – sharing advice, hopes, memories and wishes
Creating a memory box where people can add memories each time they visit you
Creating a photo album
Creating a scrapbook with keepsakes and photos
Creating a quilt from favorite T-shirts or other fabric items
Establishing a community gift – a park bench, a scholarship in your family’s name or other financial legacies
Writing cards for future celebrations
Writing a letter to loved ones
Writing a poem or song
Writing an Ethical Will – a letter to family/friends that shares accomplishments, beliefs, hopes and wishes
Voice recordings – love notes, stories, memories, family history, etc.
Your hand-print on canvass and/or in plaster
There are even opportunities for you to create a unique legacy that will leave an impact on the planet for centuries after you are gone.
Caitlin Doughty, a funeral director and environmentalist in Los Angeles, California shared her revolutionary thoughts on the funeral business during her Ted Talk. Doughty discusses ‘conservation burial’ and ‘re-composting’ —two concepts that “return our bodies back to the earth in an eco-friendly, humble and self-aware way.”
Creating a legacy will not only provide your loved ones with a precious, tangible attachment to you after you are gone, it will also improve your life today.
So, what legacy do you want to leave for your community, family and friends? We’d like to hear your plans in the comments below.
Discussing age-related decline, assisted living, health and money with an aging senior parent can be intimidating to everyone involved.
Our experts will guide you through these important topics with tips on age-related decline, dealing with resistant seniors, evaluating your elderly parents’ health, how to start a conversation with your senior parents, having ‘the talk’ and more.
How to Talk to Elderly Parents About Their Future
Going home for the holidays is a family tradition that allows you to reconnect with your loved ones whom you may not have seen in months, or even years. But sometimes these festive occasions are eye-opening to age-related decline, cognitive, health or safety issues facing our older loved ones.
Dad and Mom may have aged more than expected, or suddenly seem to need more assistance with daily tasks. Or maybe your senior loved ones are doing fine, but you recognize that they are getting older and the reality is that you need to discuss important topics and decisions for their advanced years and end-of-life wishes.
Whatever the reason, A Place for Mom works with experts in many different fields who can help provide insight into preparing for the future — from your retirement years to beyond. Our experts help families like yours learn how to recognize problems and provide advice on having a tough conversation with them this holiday season.
According to our experts, there are five must-have conversations you need to have this holiday season with your elderly parents around the topics of:
Assessing age-related decline and cognitive ability
Health and safety
1. How to Discuss Health and Safety with Your Aging Parents
Dr. Leslie Kernisan, Geriatrician
As we grow older we all pass milestones with our parents. Some of us grow taller, at a certain point most of us grow stronger (we finally beat them in one-on-one basketball!). These milestones are a natural part of life and often cherished memories.
Physical health decline is just as natural, but both your aging parents and you and your family may find age-related decline difficult to confront. Despite the difficult topic, starting a conversation about health and safety with your elderly parents is vitally important.
Dr. Kernisan suggests that, first and foremost, you observe their Activities of Daily Living (ADL), which includes things like:
Using the washroom
Walking around and general mobility
Difficulty in performing these basic necessities of life is a major issue in and of itself, but they can also be indicative of greater health issues.
Even if your parent’s ADL seems to be okay there may still be less obvious issues at hand which can be just as potentially detrimental to a senior’s health and safety. These crucial components of life are known as the Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADLS) and include:
Housekeeping and basic home maintenance
Shopping for groceries and other essentials
Transportation outside of the home
It’s important to keep an eye on your loved ones and be sure to ask yourself things like:
Are they able to move around comfortably and effectively?
Are they eating normally?
Have they lost weight?
Is their home stocked with groceries?
Is their personal hygiene and appearance up to their normal standards?
These activities and instruments of daily life are just the beginning. There are further warning signs relating to elder abuse, mental, physical health and safety. For more information on these subjects, read Dr. Kernisan’s full interview.
2. How to Discus Well-being with Your Elderly Parents
Dr. Melissa Henston, Geriatric Psychologist
Mental wellbeing is just as important as physical health and safety. According to Geriatric Psychologist Dr. Melissa Henston, you can often tell something is wrong as soon as you pull into the driveway. If the lawn is overgrown or the driveway hasn’t been cleared, those may all be warning signs that your parent is struggling.
Once inside the house, you can often tell that something is ‘off’ immediately. Does it smell? Is it messy? Keep an eye out for warning signs like:
An unkempt appearance
Low energy or depressed demeanor
Poor sleep habits
Decreased interest in hobbies
Disengagement with family and friends
If any of these basic warning signs are triggered then you will need to look deeper into the matter and may want to begin considering assisted living options. For more warning signs and what to do next, read Dr. Henston’s full interview.
3. How to Discuss Money and Financial Planning with Your Aging Parents
Andy Smith, Senior VP of Financial Planning at Financial Engines
Talking about money with your parents (or anyone for that matter) can often be a sensitive subject, but as your senior parents get older it becomes increasingly important.
Many seniors have radically underestimated the cost of retirement. As Smith points out, an “average 65-year-old couple thinks they’ll spend around $50K on healthcare costs throughout retirement. In reality, [the] number’s closer to $241K.”
Smith also warns that Social Security is not enough, and while there is no secret formula to retire with enough money to meet all your needs, the best option is to simply save as much as you can for as long as you can before retiring.
Thanks to modern medical advancements, many elderly seniors are living longer than they thought they would. While this is a huge blessing to you and your family, it can also mean unanticipated financial burdens are placed on yourself and other family members.
Preparing for these potential additional costs means having a conversation about your parents’ financial position, expenses, lifestyle medical needs and other sensitive topics.
Approach the conversation with care! Smith advises that you:
Ask your parents about their goals
Practice what you want to say
Talk in a comfortable setting
It can also help to speak to a professional, but be careful, stay involved and be wary of unscrupulous advisors looking to take advantage of their senior clients.
4. How to Discuss Legal Planning Issues with Your Elderly Parents
Stuart Furman, Esq., Elder Law Attorney
Unfortunately, many seniors are more vulnerable than they were when they were younger. To ensure that their wishes are carried out while also protecting you and your family, you need to discuss legal matters with them candidly.
Everyone (regardless of age) should have both a will and a living will, but this is especially true for aging parents. They should also have (and you should be aware of):
A life insurance policy
An end of life wishes letter (for things not covered by the will)
Authorization to release healthcare information
Healthcare proxy (durable health power-of-attorney)
Lists of current medication and health conditions
Organ donor information
Other vital documents
For more information on how to have a conversation about your elderly parents’ legal matters, what they need to do to protect themselves and their family, and what you can do to help them, read Stuart Furman, Esq.’s full interview.
5. How to Assess and Discuss Age-Related Cognitive Decline with Your Aging Parents
Dr. Wes Ashford, Neuroscientist, Psychiatrist and expert in Alzheimer’s disease
Mental decline is one of the scariest and most devastating realities of aging for many seniors and their children. Dr. Ashford recommends that you keep an eye out for the warning signs this holiday season, including:
Asking questions repeatedly
Difficulty holding a conversation
Difficulty remembering recent events (Alzheimer’s and dementia both impact short-term memory first, so this is a major red flag)
Difficulty with the Activities of Daily Living (ADL) and Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADLS) as described above by Dr. Henston
Some seniors may try to cover up their memory loss or develop coping mechanisms to mask their difficulty. You may have to be extra vigilant and pay special attention to your aging parents to catch all of the warning signs.
For more information about age-related cognitive decline, how to spot it, what to do about it, and how to talk about it, read Dr. Ashford’s full interview here.
If Your Aging Parent is Resistive
For many families this holiday, starting the conversation will be the most difficult part of addressing these issues with an aging parent. “Typically you need to look for the opening and opportunity, rather than just jumping in,” Dr. Henston recommends. “Don’t try to take control. Try to get a natural conversation going.”
Your parents will always view you first and foremost as their child, this is natural. However, sometimes this attitude, combined with other issues, means that they will be reluctant to listen.
It is important to remember that your parents need you to be an advocate for their health, especially when mental or physical decline starts to impact their ability to advocate for themselves. Although they may be resistant to your help, and while their wishes are important, you need to know how and when to keep pushing. Often times resistance and stubborness to communication in an aging senior can itself be a warning sign.
To break through remember that you need to separate your needs from the needs of your parents. Get the rest of the family on board, discuss everything, and remember to be compassionate but firm in explaining what you believe is best.
Advice from a team of experts is one thing, but there’s no better advice than from someone who has experienced these challenges first-hand. Joan Lunden has been in your shoes and knows how difficult it can be to broach these difficult but vitally important subjects. Watch Joan’s video on Facebook, or read the full transcript below for her first-hand advice:
Today, I’m going to discuss a question that came in: “how do you deal with an aging parent who refuses to try or even talk about assisted living?”
This is a common issue for families. It’s emotionally charged, but when that day comes, when it kinda becomes apparent to you, that living in a home alone is going to present a danger to an aging parent, it’s kinda the day that you have to accept you’re going to become “the parent” and I’m not gonna lie, there’s nothing easy about that life transition.
I remember going down this road with my mom. She was very resistant to moving out of the condo where I had her living, but she had dementia that was increasing and it was just not possible to leave her there alone. I think that the first thing I want to recommend is getting help. Expert help. I didn’t even know when I started on this path that there is such a thing as a Senior Advisor. So I did It all by myself and drove around and just went and looked at places that I’d seen in my life and I made all the mistakes that you can make.
It wasn’t until I got a Senior Advisor that helped me first assess my mom’s needs, and really come to terms with those. Find out what all my options were, understand the landscape of senior living, and then to even understand the questions that I should be asking, that’s when I finally turned things around. And I made a promise to myself at that point that I was going to do everything I could to help others before they went down this path.
You know, all too often, like me, this all starts when you get “that call” you know, maybe the spouse died, or your parent took a fall, or had a stroke, or just got a diagnosis of dementia or Alzheimer’s, and all of the sudden you have to make all these decisions and find out all the answers in a moment of urgency. It’s way easier if you start ahead of time and have a family conversation. I know that’s not always so easy to do, but it’s so important because you can start to kinda plant the seed not just with your parents but even with siblings. Start to understand what their desires are, what their worries are, help them start understanding what their changing needs are.
And this is not gonna be one conversation, by the way, it will be a series of conversations, but it’s really important to start that process early on. And then I think it’s just really important to educate yourself. Start learning about senior care, go out and visit a couple facilities, then you can bring your parent into this conversation. Maybe go have lunch at a facility so that they see what life is like there. The big thing is to make them understand that the landscape of senior living has completely changed. It used to be that you know, take the parent out of the home, they go right into a nursing home, then they die. That is not what senior living is about today.
Today there are active communities with hiking trails and swimming pools and gyms and movie theaters and pet grooming. I mean the list goes on and then it goes all the way through to assisted living and memory care and then nursing care and I just think that a lot the resistance and distaste for the idea of a “senior living community” comes from that old idea of what senior living is all about.
So I think first of all you really have to to make them understand the that it’s not the “old” senior living community. And I think too that they’re afraid of losing their independence. Ironically, if you find the right community, they will be able to have more friends and new activities and kind of a peace of mind that all the chores of life are being taken care of, so that they can get on with enjoying life. It’s kind of funny that it’s really the absolute other way around. But, you know, every study tells us today that the biggest predictor of how well a personal will age successfully is how engaged they are in life and how many social connections they have. And gerontologists say that isolation, being alone, can be as dangerous to a senior as smoking 8 packs of cigarettes a day.
So it’s important… I think, if I had anything to do over, I would have gotten my mom into an active senior community earlier on. And the final thing is that parents don’t want to be a burden to us. So it’s really important the tone you take. If you convey an idea that, you know, “I’m gonna have to take care of all this responsibility so, let’s have this talk already,” you’re going nowhere. It’s really important that you can inspire in your loved one that you want to be an active participant in making sure that their later years are the best life that they can be. Where they can be not just safe but happy. And I think that that is your starting off point.
And, as soon as you’re ready to get this started, I highly recommend that you contact A Place for Mom. I have such respect for A Place for Mom. They will put you together with a Senior Advisor and they will walk you down that path and tell you what your options are, and they can help you then even have that discussion with your siblings and with your parents. So I wish you good luck on your journey!
Getting started with these conversations is easier than you may think, and taking the time to have the conversation will help lead to better outcomes.
For more information, including our caregiver toolkit, financial guides and more on how to have the tough conversation with aging loved ones, visit: www.aplaceformom.com/conversations.
Do you have any questions about having the “tough conversation” with aging parents? We’d like to hear them in the comments below.
Going home for the holidays brings many visions to mind. From comfort food to conversations by the fireplace — spending quality time with loved ones for the holidays is something we cherish. Which is also why the holidays can be so hard if a loved one has recently been lost.
Since holidays are for being with those we love most, how are we expected to cope during this memory-provoking season if a loved one has recently passed? Whether you are an adult child who has lost a parent or a senior who has lost a partner, the holidays can now signify a depressing and often stressful experience. For many, the holidays magnify the loss and become the time of year that’s the hardest for grieving. This is precisely why the need for support, and often help, is necessary during the holidays.
Grief Over the Holidays
Read below to learn how confronting grief can help heal the pain, no matter the situation.
Whether you have an aging parent who has lost a partner, or you are spending your first Christmas, Hanukkah or New Year without your parent, there are constructive ways to deal with grief during the holidays:
Seniors Who Have Lost Partners or Loved Ones
There are few things in life more likely to lead to depression than losing a spouse — especially for seniors in their twilight years, according to geriatric psychologist, Dr. Kernisan.
“As numerous research studies have demonstrated, spousal bereavement is a major source of life stress that often leaves people vulnerable to depression, stress, even reduced life expectancy… the holidays can be especially challenging. It’s important to consult a doctor, geriatrician, geriatric psychologist or geriatric psychiatrist for help in evaluating, diagnosing and treating the problem.”
Dr. Kernisan adds that disengagement and change in behavior are big warning signs that something is off with your loved one, and are often prevalent during the holidays after a spouse is lost. It’s being aware that there is a problem that is more than grief that is important.
“All three mentions of the serenity prayer are very difficult for seniors. ‘God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.’ Family members are key to helping their loved ones tackle these concepts of aging and healthy living.”
Does your loved one have frequent or sudden sadness?
Does your loved one have hopelessness?
Does your loved one suddenly seem or feel lonely?
Has there been a personality change?
Have there been mistakes with finances?
Have you noticed a difficulty in their learning new things?
Have you noticed problems in driving?
Is organization a problem?
Is there a lack of social or purposeful activities?
Is there a loss of interest in activities they used to enjoy?
Is there unusual spending of money?
Is your loved one experiencing excessive or unusual worrying?
When a spouse is lost, there is a huge risk of depression and senior isolation — that can lead to a plethora of problems — which is why it’s so important to get help. There are a few ways you can help your aging parent cope:
1. Celebrate the holiday in a new way.
Start a new celebration or tradition by going to a different venue or home
Try to create new memories, while continuing to honor the old in subtle ways, such as through decorating, meals or family traditions
2. Honor the lost loved one.
Create an online tribute for the loved one
Light a candle or say a prayer for your loved one
Share favorite stories about your loved one
Visit your place of worship, if applicable for your family’s belief system
3. Reach out to professionals for help, if necessary.
Whether you speak to a doctor, geriatrician, geriatric psychologist or geriatric psychiatrist, as Kernisan discusses, it’s important to talk to a professional if grief is not being handled well (or if you suspect there are underlying health issues that are a catalyst of the loss!)
If a senior loved one has lost a spouse, it may be a good time to think about or consider senior living. Senior living communities can provide daily activities, friendship and happiness during retirement years.
Adult Children Who Have Lost Parents
Just as seniors who have lost a spouse are at risk for heartache during the holidays, it’s only natural that adult children who have lost their parents may be suffering. Usually, parents are the hub of the holidays, and if dad or mom passed suddenly, there can be even more emotions involved, such as psychological trauma or shock.
Grief counselors agree that trying to ignore the recent death of a parent only creates more problems. It is much healthier to acknowledge the loss and either go ahead with family rituals, honoring the loved one who passed, or start new traditions, while still respectfully acknowledging the old ones. A loving parent would want the celebrations to continue, which is also important to keep in mind.
As with the seniors who have lost spouses, there are ways to cope with this heart-wrenching grief:
1. Celebrate the holiday in a new way.
As with seniors who have lost their spouse, attending a celebration at a different venue or home could help, while continuing to honor old traditions through decorating, meals and family nuances
Create new memories and traditions while it may be too painful to do regular family traditions
2. Honor the lost loved one.
Create a memory book to document and honor their life, accomplishments and heritage
Create an online tribute
Memorialize your parent through donations in their name or volunteering for their favorite organizations
Practice spiritual beliefs that speak to you, whether it’s through prayer or visiting a place of worship
Share favorite stories about your loved one
3. Join a support group.
Talking to people who have experienced similar loss can be helpful as a support group offers understanding, empathy and advice from people in a similar situation
Overcoming grief and loneliness are challenges that many people face when they lose a loved one, but whether they are able to move on afterward depends on their own inner resources as well as the support they receive from friends and family. For those who are having a particularly hard time coping, Dr. Kernisan suggests counseling and medical treatment to get their life back on track.
Have you recently lost a loved one? What has helped you get through the holidays? We’d like to hear your suggestions in the comments below.
It can be difficult to stay on top of all the responsibilities of caring for a loved one, whether you are managing medications, scheduling medical appointments or sharing information with other family members.
Fortunately, there are a variety of apps available for your smartphone or tablet that can make these tasks easier to manage.
Best Apps for Family Caregivers
Here’s our list of the top four apps for family caregivers:
This app is a great tool to safely and securely manage your loved one’s health information, including:
The app is user-friendly and allows you to input and organize information in a variety of ways. You can manually enter medicals details such as dosages of prescriptions and important contacts (like doctors, family members, insurance providers and pharmacies), or you can journal pertinent health information, including health care instructions or symptoms in real time.
You can also upload files and photos to ensure important documents are always at your fingertips. The calendar function allows you to keep track of appointments and refills, and you can easily sync events with other calendars and share access with others, too. There is also a “To-Do” section that allows you to maintain an organized list of important tasks, as well as assign tasks to others, which is important to help avoid caregiver burnout.
This free app currently has over 25,000 reviews on Google Play with a 4.4 star rating. Here’s what users are saying about CareZone:
“This app and the companion website have been invaluable to me. I would not be able to manage my mother’s care effectively without it. All the doctors who see me using it ask me about it and are very impressed.”
This app encourages shared caregiving and emotional support within your circle of family and friends. You can create your own personal CaringBridge website to share information and updates about your loved one’s health and needs in one central location.
The website is easy to create with the assistance of this app and is private and secure – only those people you have invited to access the website will be able to view it. You can use the planner feature to schedule important appointments, dates and tasks, and you can also request assistance and assign family and friends to specific tasks.
A unique feature of this app that sets it apart from others is that there is a fundraising component. CaringBridge is partnered with GoFundMe to allow users to raise funds to pay for ongoing caregiving and medical costs.
With just under 1,000 reviews on Google Play, CaringBridge has a 4.1 star rating. Here’s what users are saying about CaringBridge:
“It’s a wonderful app, just perfect for the more personal sharing one might not want to put on public forums, good for communicating with close family and friends without having to repeat the same information multiple times.”
3. Headspace: Guided Meditation and Mindfulness
This app is a fantastic self-care resource for caregivers to reduce stress and improve focus. Meditation has been proven to ease anxiety and mental stress, and this app makes it easy to master these techniques. Headspace is meditation made simple, teaching you the life-changing skills of meditation and mindfulness in mere minutes a day. There are hundreds of guided meditation exercises that are especially helpful for caregivers, including acceptance, patience, relationships and resilience.
This app has nearly 65,000 reviews on Google Play and a 4.6 star rating. Here’s what users are saying about Headspace:
“Surprisingly helpful. I’m usually weary of things like this but after a couple months of sticking to it, I’m feeling some very positive improvements. Very good for the skeptic in all of us and the beginner.”
4. Watch Out for the CareBetter® App
CareBetter is a community of people who care for loved ones with Alzheimer’s and dementia. The app, which is currently in beta testing and will be available soon, helps caregivers connect with other caregivers who are going through a similar journey to get ideas and share resources and support.
The app also connects caregivers with trusted experts in the field of dementia who can answer care-related questions and provide guidance to help caregivers make important decisions about behaviors, diet, family dynamics, home care assistance and more. Anyone caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s or dementia should keep an eye out for the CareBetter app!
Do you care for a senior loved one? What are your go-to apps for family caregivers? We’d like to hear more about your favorites in the comments below.
The term “caregiver” can take on many contexts depending on your loved one’s abilities, health, living arrangement and overall well-being. The term also means different things to different people. Some find their identity in being a “caregiver” and are empowered to embrace their role, while others are so overwhelmed with the sweeping responsibility of caring for a loved one that they experience caregiver fatigue.
Caregiving requires a profound dedication and personal commitment, and the reality is, it is a season of life that can be enormously rewarding, yet emotionally and physically exhausting.
The Cost of Caregiving
According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, there are approximately 43.5 million caregivers providing unpaid care to an adult or child every year, with most (85%) providing care to a relative or loved one. The stats reveal that on average, family caregivers spend:
24.4 hours per week providing care. Nearly 1 in 4 caregivers spends 41 hours or more per week providing care.
13 days per month on tasks such as food preparation, giving medication, housekeeping, laundry, shopping and transportation.
6 days per month on ADL’s, like bathing, dressing, feeding, grooming, toileting and walking.
13 hours per month researching care services or information on disease, coordinating physician visits or managing financial matters.
Research suggests that caregiving often has negative effects on a person’s health and well-being, and that nearly half of caregivers (40%) report feeling that they are in a “high-burden” situation. Despite these facts, many family caregivers do not “practice preventive healthcare and self-care behavior,” reporting:
Failure to exercise
Failure to stay in bed when ill
Poor eating habits
Postponement of or failure to make medical appointments for themselves
Family caregivers are also at increased risk for depression and excessive use of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs. The evidence is clear – for the health of the whole family, caregiving responsibilities should be shared.
Share the Care™ (STC) is one such resource. This highly regarded guidebook comes with printable worksheets and can be used by caregivers and families as a “loving, pragmatic approach to caregiving that can succeed no matter what the challenge.”
The idea behind the STC model is to “organize a circle of care” for a loved one in need, relieve the burden and stress of the primary caregiver, and help to involve family and friends in the care process.
Roles and responsibilities can be divvied up to all members of the family (including children, grandchildren, siblings, spouses, etc.) and assigned to provide the following caregiving tasks:
Arrange medical appointments, drive to the doctor, sit in during appointments, monitor medications.
Be a companion – the perfect role for an older child to assist mom in caring for grandma!
Buy groceries, clean, cook, do laundry, provide transportation – many friends and neighbors want to help relieve the load of caregivers, but they are not sure how. Assigning these tasks can be a great help in ticking things off the over-growing to do list.
Handle crises and arrange for assistance.
Handle finances and other legal matters.
Help the care receiver get dressed, take medicine, take a shower, etc.
Talk with care managers, doctors, nurses and others to understand what needs to be done.
Transfer someone out of bed/chair, help with physical therapy, perform medical interventions — injections, feeding tubes, wound treatment.
Ways to Share the Care
Sharing caregiving responsibilities with family members can be a difficult road to navigate. How do you get everyone on the same page?
Three hours off, twice a week? Twenty-four hours away from the house? A regular caregiver’s day (or night) out with your spouse or friends? A combination of the above?
What does my loved one need?
Companionship? Meals? Light housekeeping? Personal care? List every job, large and small.
By understanding your needs and the needs of your loved one, you can create a game plan that involves other members of your family and allows each member to contribute without one person bearing the burden of all caregiving responsibilities.
2. Hold a Family Meeting
The Family Caregiver Alliances suggests holding a family meeting to encourage family members to get on the same page and work cooperatively. After all, the more people participating in care, “the less alone a caregiver feels in his/her role,” and the more supported your loved one receiving care feels.
Daily caregiving needs – a list of tasks that need doing.
How much time does each family member have to visit?
Other ways each person can help? What other help might be available?
Problem solving – issues that need a solution and possible ideas.
Sharing of feelings about the illness/caregiving.
The latest report from the physician.
What does the person who is ill want and need?
What sort of support does the primary caregiver need?
What support role does each person want to play?
Who will make decisions (e.g., financial, medical, hiring a caregiver, etc.) and how will they be made?
Remember to circulate minutes from the meeting that capture the decisions made.
A successful family meeting needs compromise to be successful. Also, try to accept that not all issues will be resolved in one meeting. The Family Caregiver Alliance suggests trying to work toward respecting each others’ opinions and “consensus building.”
Providing care for a loved one can be an all-encompassing responsibility for a caregiver; however, by involving others and assigning caregiver roles for the entire family, you can relieve many of the stresses associated with caregiving.
How are caregiving roles defined in your family? We’d like to hear your stories in the comments below.
It is an unfortunate reality that elder abuse occurs, but the good news is that much of this abuse can be prevented with public awareness and education. Learn more about how to protect your senior loved ones.
Elder Abuse Prevention
It’s not unusual to turn on the news and hear about a senior who has been the victim of abuse, or involved in a terrible situation that could have been prevented.
The fact that this abuse occurs is unfathomable — which is why it’s increasingly important to arm caregivers and families with the resources they need to protect vulnerable seniors. After all, we want to care and watch over our elders and loved ones, as they have done for us.
What’s unfortunate is that these experiences can overshadow the excellent care and safety that the majority of seniors experience at senior living communities across the country. We hear wonderful stories from families every day. But, that said, these incidents are a good reminder to do your research and stay involved when looking at senior communities. With careful planning and diligence you can keep your loved ones protected.
How can we protect our elders from abuse? Again, diligence and research can make all the difference. That’s why A Place for Mom scrutinizes each and every one of its partner communities and performs regular license reviews and state violation audits.
But, knowing how to protect our elders from crimes in assisted living also takes individual effort. If you are looking for an assisted living community for a parent or grandparent, learn the potential signs of abuse, which can include:
Aggressive behavior from a caregiver
A vulnerable senior signing unexpected property transfers or giving excessive financial “gifts”
Poor nutrition or dehydration
Uncharacteristic changes in a senior’s behavior or personality
Unexplained or excessive bruising or bedsores
Understaffed or overworked caregivers
When choosing a senior living community, take note of whether the staff has a personal connection with the seniors. This should be quite obvious from their interactions, which you can easily observe in dining and amenity areas.
What is the social calendar for the seniors? Is it a fun, happy and stimulating environment? Is the staff properly trained for the type of care? These are all important things to ask yourself and your family.
Once a senior has moved into a community, having a family member visit on a regular basis is also important as mood changes and the senior’s overall physical health will be easier to monitor. Even with specific health conditions, being aware and monitoring wellness checks is crucial to know whether your senior is getting the right care.
Report suspected assisted living crimes to law enforcement immediately
Stay alert, keeping in frequent contact with loved ones at senior living communities
You can also raise awareness about abuse through community, government or church activities. Or, by volunteering for activities that support at-risk or disabled seniors.
Senior Living for Your Family
Senior living can be an excellent choice for many families. We at A Place for Mom are consistently getting feedback from families who say things like, “Mom has never been happier. We are so happy we moved her to this community.”
In fact, senior living has been shown to improve mental and social stimulation for a better quality of life for many seniors. For example, many seniors get companionship and daily activity they didn’t have before the move.
So how do you know when it is right? Again, it’s all about equipping your family with the knowledge and resources they need to make educated decisions. If your loved one needs more care than you can provide at home, you have to do the research and find a community that’s a good fit for both the level of care the senior needs as well as the environment that matches the senior’s personality. A caring, educated staff can make all the difference and it’s important to visit on a regular basis.