Dan Tobin

Dan Tobin M.D.

The Caregiver

Coordinating Your Aging Parents' Needs

Find practical solutions to caring for aging parents.

Posted Jul 06, 2009

As our parents age, we naturally become concerned about their health and safety, especially when called to action within complex, unfamiliar medical as well as non-medical situations. Our parents get sick, or fall, or become increasingly frail and have difficulty getting around or living at home. Often with a mixed sense of responsibility, guilt - and honor (that has not yet been studied) - millions of Baby Boomer, adult children are "sandwiched" between taking care of their aging parents and their own children.

Over the last 20 years I have been working with seniors and their families to find practical, proactive, and positive ways to face the challenges of aging and advancing illness. As a practicing physician, then as a researcher developing models of care coordination and health counseling for patients and their families facing advanced illness, I remained determined to make available to the public the helpful tools and methods for family caregiving that we discovered.

I am excited to share the specifics our group has figured out that can help you find individualized solutions for the stress of family caregiving. We remain committed to the mission of helping you help yourself and your loved ones navigate the lifestyle, healthcare, and economic issues of caring for aging parents.

This blog will introduce a straightforward approach to getting a handle on your family's situation. In the next blog I will summarize our specific eight-step method for family caregiving and, later, go more deeply into each of the steps. Since neither our parents' insurance, Medicare, nor our own healthcare coverage supports family caregiving services, our group, Care Support of America, has created a company dedicated to helping. I am committed to getting you as much information and as many tools as possible.

Let me share a recent story with you that will introduce a way to start figuring out individualized solutions when coping with the ongoing stress of family caregiving.

Meg is a 53-year-old married mother of two teenage boys, working full time as a manager in a retail clothing store in Philadelphia, Pa. She lives four hours from her 85-year-old widowed mother who has heart disease and advancing memory loss due to Alzheimer's. Meg's three brothers live in different parts of the country, and none of them had any experience with Alzheimer's. After Meg's mother started a kitchen fire by leaving soup on the burner, the children knew she was not safe being at home alone. After three months of driving to visit almost every weekend, Meg hired a care manager for four hours to help her figure out how to solve the dilemma that she and her three brothers could not.

Meg quickly learned from the care manager how to ask her mother's doctor about treatment options, as well as more details about Alzheimer's and how it would progress for her mother. When they realized that even four hours a day of home health aides would not keep their Mom safe, everyone in the family agreed that moving their mother to an assisted living facility was best. Not only was Meg's life improved, but her mother was safe. This guidance helped the siblings understand their fears about their mother's disease and how Alzheimer's support groups can help. Once the unfamiliar terrain was outlined, the four children quickly got control over a difficult situation.

When you're facing eldercare and family caregiving problems and the stress that can accompany them, focusing on these three major areas will help:

1. Be positive and proactive - once you take responsibility for getting some control, you will.

You will be challenged on many levels when trying to get control of family caregiving problems - medical, logistical, legal, financial, and emotional. It is not unusual to feel confused, exhausted, and not in control. We are all different and face problems in different ways, but this is the time to take control of your own emotional reaction and decide to take a positive and proactive approach. By taking a committed step to do something in order to get a handle on your situation, good things can happen.

2. Get a plan.

You will need to gather information, create a problem list, and then a road map for solving your problems. We have found that most people need help with the medical and non-medical aspects of home care, hospital and institutional care, and basic financial issues. Asking a professional for help may be of value. We have found that every family's situation is different - you will need to find the individualized solutions that will work for you.

3. Face worries, concerns, and fears.

There will always be barriers to solving problems and adapting to loss as well as change in your parents advancing illness. Pay attention to your willingness to change and your family's way of coping with difficult situations. Unless you are an only child, you will be sharing decisions with your family members - try to get everyone on the same page and support the family caregivers who are carrying the load. And remember that the more you take care of yourself, the stronger you will be as a family caregiver.

Our research and work over 20 years - with elderly patients and their families, and all of the healthcare professionals they encounter - shows that if you approach family caregiving issues in a systematic way, you can gather the information you need to lay the foundation to deal with whatever comes next. This philosophy and method of coordinating care has been proven to work throughout the country. Obviously, some illnesses and conditions are terribly difficult and there is no way around that. But other problems can be avoided - or minimized - if you know what to expect, or can find the right kind of guidance.

You really can eliminate the frenzy and improve the quality of life for your parent and you, the caregiver.

The bottom line is that your parents will always want to be independent and not be a burden on you - but they need your help. The goal of this blog is to help you and your family to adjust well and learn how to spend quality time with your parents as they age.

Along the way, you will create positive memories that last forever.