Just before the holidays, a friend asked us to recommend an in-home senior service for her parents. Her father had been diagnosed several years earlier with Parkinson’s Disease, and she had begun to see her stepmother’s health decline because of her total dedication to her husband’s growing needs.
My friend wanted to provide them “the gift” of in-home assistance, and the holidays finally presented that opportunity for which they could not refuse the help. She herself also is caring for a terminally ill spouse, so family couldn’t just step in to assist.
The professional assistance was indeed a big help, but it was short-lived. Last week we learned my friend’s stepmother had passed.
It’s a scenerio we see all too frequently, especially with seniors in the throes of dementia care. Women of a certain generation are resistant to outside help because they have always been able to handle the demands and even pride themselves on their decades of selflessness. Men too can be stubborn, believing their marital vows override their own limited abilities to properly care for their loved one.
There’s growing research to show that sometimes caregivers’ best efforts are not good enough. A piece in today’s Yale Daily News underscores this point. Researchers focused on Alzheimer’s patients “found that inconsistent or detached caregiving can cause Alzheimer’s patients to lose trust in their loved ones, exacerbating physical symptoms of the disease.”
At some point, roles reverse in life and adult children must take charge of their parents’ care. This is never easy. But my friend’s approach – to provide the gift of respite care that best fits their needs and lifestyle – is an excellent start.
It may be in-home care; it may be adult day care so both of them get out of the house and interact with others, which is critical to anyone’s well-being. Isolation is common as the caregiving role evolves and the couple becomes more co-dependent and fearful of being in public. They no longer wish to attend social functions and even shut out family that may be urging them to make a big change.
Every adult child should be aware of what options are available for aging parents and have frank, honest discussions early on – such as when discussing advanced directives or living wills – to find out a parent’s preferences and then help them receive those services when needed. If a couple is childless, then a close relative or friend can fulfill that role. This, of course, is much easier for some sandwich families than others, but searching for financial assistance is another way to help.