Making decisions as a family caregiver can become doubly difficult. Choosing what to do for a loved one is just one thing but you must consider when to do it as well.
Unfortunately, there are no firm timetables available here as caregiving situations vary. But there are guidelines. As a family caregiver, you must carefully monitor your loved one’s health as well as his/her mental and physical capabilities and step in when and where required. There’s a lengthy list of “red flags” so I’ll just draw two hotter topics from my own co-caregiving experience with my aging parents:
Driving: After many years of independent driving, a senior can be unwilling to surrender the car keys. Family caregivers will hear arguments such as, “How am I supposed to get from point A to point B?” or, “I’ve been a safe driver for years …”. Furthermore, admitting driving challenges means admitting weakness or decline. As with my parents, they may resist asking family members for help.
Seniors can be tested for their driving abilities. Book a complete medical exam with a doctor who will check a senior’s vision, hearing, cognitive abilities, and overall health. Depending on the doctor’s findings, a road test may be required. The decision may be a “yes”, “no”, or an “only sometimes”. The middle ground comes in the form of a conditional driver’s license allowing the senior to drive at certain times of the day, to and from selected locations, and within a specified distance from home. Safety is the key factor here (for your loved one and others on the road) but a senior may be happy to know that he/she can continually drive on a part-time basis – rather than not at all.
Family caregivers can start the process by assessing a senior’s driving for themselves. My mother had Parkinson’s disease and lost much of her flexibility. As a result, she was unable to properly shoulder-check when driving – I witnessed this early as a passenger! Take a ride with your senior. It shouldn’t take too long to see if he/she has any troubles (for example, misreading directional signs, speeding or driving too slowly, braking and/or accelerating suddenly and without reason, parking, and/or getting lost). To reduce the resistance, it can be a good idea to have other transportation options ready to recommend.
Moving into Long-Term Care: This can be another contentious issue for seniors who often prefer the comfort and familiarity of their own homes. Make your first call to Health Link (at 811 in either Edmonton or Calgary). Ask for a case manager to visit and assess your senior’s living environment. This case manager will evaluate the home’s overall safety and make recommendations. An easy fix may be installing grab bars in the bathroom by the bathtub or in the shower. With more complex problems, the senior may be required to move to Designated Supportive Living, Long Term Care, or Palliative or End-of-Life Care (depending on care needs).
As with driving, family caregivers must be aware when visiting aging loved ones at home. Does the senior struggle to sit down or stand up from a chair/couch? Face challenges with climbing or descending stairs? Ignore keeping up with necessary housecleaning? Leave food to spoil in the fridge? Trip and/or fall down?
While these conversations may not be easy, remain firm and patient. It took repeated discussions for my sisters and I to stress our points and get Mom and Dad to agree.
Rick Lauber is a published book author and an established freelance writer. Lauber has written two books, Caregiver’s Guide for Canadians and The Successful Caregiver’s Guide (both published by Self-Counsel Press) as valuable resources for prospective, new, and current caregivers. He is also very pleased to have been twice-selected as a contributor to Chicken Soup for the Soul (Chicken Soup for the Soul: It’s Christmas! and Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Very Good, Very Bad Cat). Lauber has also served, on a voluntary basis, on the Board of Directors for Caregivers Alberta. As The Caregiver Coach for the Alberta Prime Times newspaper, Lauber shares caregiving news, thoughts, and insights on a bi-monthly basis. See ricklauber.com