Almost all families will at some point be faced with the decision of what to do when a parent can no longer look after himself or herself. Talking with other family members, including the parent, well in advance will help make the transition smooth and comfortable for everyone. Surveys indicate strongly that most seniors would prefer to be part of these discussions before a health situation comes up. Don’t hesitate to raise the topic – your family will be glad you did. Things that are important to discuss include:
- Where will the senior live? At home, or at an assisted-living facility?
- Who will be the primary caregiver – a sibling, a caregiver, a rotation between family members?
- How will their finances be managed – assign one family member to this task
- At what point do we need help?
The last question is often the hardest. Most families enter a caregiving situation very gradually, and it is hard to admit when it is no longer ideal to help your parent yourself. Here is a guideline to follow if your family is unsure:
- Establish a baseline. Keeping note of your parent’s behaviour, and how it has changed, will help you to be realistic about their condition. Changes may include cognitive or physical decline, or more obvious signs such as piled up mail and bills, an un-kept house, or forgetting medications.
- Get a medical diagnosis. If you notice a change, take your parent to the doctor. Getting professional medical advice and an appropriate diagnosis is essential to getting the right treatment.
- Educate yourselves. Talk to your doctor, and do your research. Especially if a diagnosis has been made, having all the facts will help your family know what kind of care you may need, and at what point you will no longer be equipped to assist your parent on your own.
- Determine what is available. What kind of resources does your community have? What type of care can your family afford? Outline a family ‘care plan’. What is each family member able to provide? Some siblings may live farther away, or some may have the ability to move the parent into their home. Be honest with each other ahead of time and determine what each family member can contribute to the care plan. This will always be a work in progress as situations change.
If you suspect your family is in need a caregiver, find a local home care organization and talk to a professional. Having an assessment of your family and the senior in need of care will answer a lot of questions for you, and help you determine your options. It is important for the health of your family, and especially your parent, to take these steps before it is too late. Talk to your family now, and call a professional caregiver to answer all your questions.