By Jenny Smith
At a dinner party a few months ago, a friend told me that she and her sister were making the four hour round trip from Hartford to Stamford Connecticut and back twice a week to check in on their 93-year-old mother in her home.
Over the past year, their mom had several minor falls and left an electric stove burner on once. The burner remained on for a full day until my friend arrived. On three occasions, their mom neglected to take her medication from the carefully dosed pill boxes the sisters set up for her every week according to her doctor’s prescription.
My friend proposed to find an agency that could send an aide into mom’s home every other day to make sure that everything was in order. Her sister reacted violently, refusing to consider an outside service because 1) She thought that such services would be too expensive and 2) “Mom would never let a stranger come into her home.”
I expressed concern. “Are you willing to allow the situation to deteriorate, deal with a crisis, then live with the knowledge it could have been prevented? My friend shrugged: “I’m against two strong-willed women. It’s a brick wall.”
Sound familiar? As daughters, sons and grandchildren of aging parents we’re often caught between keeping the peace and doing the right thing. A sibling may not be able to share the financial outlay to keep mom or dad safe and healthy in their home. The parent may perceive him or herself to be independent — when in fact they’re relying heavily on a network of family and friends for their daily needs.
Healthy aging author Carol Rosenblatt recently offered her Forbes followers a great strategy for getting parents to accept help: Take the ‘stealth’ approach by gradually inserting a professional helper into your loved one’s life. For Carol, that meant finding mom a companion-caregiver who would go with her on walks, errands and outings during the family vacation. By the time the vacation ended, the caregiver had become a trusted helper that mom didn’t want to give up.
Your sister or brother may question the need for outside support because they don’t see their parents as regularly and aren’t as aware of their physical or mental decline. This is where it really falls on the sibling living closest to the parents to communicate their condition and needs. If you are that sibling, don’t just call your sister and brother and rattle on what mom’s now forgetting, or how dad’s hip won’t permit him to stand anymore. Use technology to tell the story. Set up a Skype video-conference or iChat so the entire clan can see and hear for themselves what’s up with your folks.
If you’re taking on the lions share of caregiving, also let your siblings know how your role may be affecting your career and other family commitments. It’s not easy. But with open, frequent communication, ‘show and tell’ tactics and a gradual approach, it will be easier to get both your parents and other family members on the same caregiving script.
About Jenny Smith
Aging in Place Essential Toolkit™ contributor Jenny Smith toggles her public relations and marketing consultancy, Acuity Public Relations, with her evolving role as caregiver to her 650-mile-distant mother and 65-mile-distant mother-in-law.