A common scenario to many families: Mama Mary lives alone, widowed several years ago and has several health conditions. Family members live up north and visit a few times per year, and have been trying to visit more often since Mary lost her husband to help her manage her household. Mary answers all questions/concerns with “I’m fine” and gets very upset when her granddaughter brings up an assisted living community. The family isn’t very familiar with what other types of help might be available and since Mary always says she’s fine, Mary is getting by with occasional assistance from friends and neighbors. Her daughter calls her every day for her own peace of mind and her son has started to help her go over bills and help with finances.
The biggest concern with this scenario is the potential risks the senior (and therefore, by extension, the family, who will likely step in if/when anything happens) is taking with regard to safety, but also continued independence and choices. One fall or major health problem could have a significant impact on this senior’s options. And, with little planning or resources in place, everyone may be ill-equipped to deal with that crisis. And, a few minor changes and resources to support Mary could make a big difference in reducing risks.
Does this sounds familiar? What could this family do to relieve their worries and better ensure the safety of Mary?
With our years of experience in eldercare and patient advocacy, we have come to see that while maintaining independence is often seen as keeping everything status quo, those who make proactive changes truly guide their own paths. Here are some tips we share with families about the fine balance between independence, safety and risk-reduction.
• Don’t shy away from conversations about your concerns. Your loved one may try to brush off the topic, but find ways to discuss your concerns and some options to help. Ask your loved one to consider some small changes or getting an assessment or home safety review as a way to get started.
• Do some homework. Find out about some of the support options in your community or plan an eldercare consultation with one of our care managers (we often do these with family members over the phone and discuss ways to address the subject with their loved ones). You can be prepared even if your loved one doesn’t want to take part in this process right now.
• Take advantage of “windows of opportunity”. For example, if a loved one is hospitalized, has surgery or is weakened by an illness, introduce support services which might be welcomed and needed at that time. It is often fear of the unknown that causes the most resistance. Also, when an event occurs (even with a friend or other family member), use that as a conversation starter.
• Identify areas where your loved one may acknowledge needing help, or offer care/assistance as a gift. For example, you may be able to give the gift of some home-delivered meals or transportation and help around the house.
• Know when to “put your foot down” (with kindness). If your Mom is truly putting herself at risk, explain your concerns and why you feel she is being unfair to herself and you.
• When exploring options, a care management consultation can help you see a variety of pros and cons. A good care plan takes in to account a variety of factors about the individual and situation. A care manager may have a unique view on things that helps you and your family look at things in a new way.
You might also benefit from reading our handout entitled “Help! Mom Won’t Listen! What to do when you’re concerned about an aging loved one“.
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