Senior Citizen's Guide digital books
Senior Citizen's Guide

Coping with Caregiver Issues
Arranging the best care for your loved one

Guilt is the most common sentiment that caregivers feel when making long-term care decisions for their loved ones. You are not alone if you feel down on yourself for placing your mom in a nursing home, or convincing your dad that he needs to move into an apartment. Because you are in the position of nudging your loved one against his or her will, negative feelings of guilt or regret are normal.

Remember though, that you are trying to arrange the best possible care for your loved one. This is certainly nothing to be ashamed of. In many cases, resorting to aging services takes realizing your own limitations as a caregiver first, which can be difficult in itself. All you can do is try your hardest, and oftentimes that means utilizing the care providers you have available to you.

You may want to talk to someone about any range of emotions that you are experiencing, from relief to depression. Speak with the staff at your loved one's long-term care facility. They have much experience dealing with families and should know where to refer you, or be able to speak with you themselves. Some facilities have family support groups that can bring you together with other individuals who are experiencing the same emotional stresses.

Making Aging Services a Positive Experience

Once your loved one has moved into an aging services facility, you still play a key role in the quality of life they are able to maintain there. Your involvement in your loved one's care goes beyond just the amount of time you spend visiting.

Getting to know his or her caretakers can make the experience more pleasant for both you and your loved one. It may also be crucial to his or her health that you maintain communication with caregivers and pass on any changes in condition that you notice. Being friendly with your loved ones' neighbors and their family members is also a good way to cultivate a healthy living environment.

Most aging services facilities, nursing homes included, allow residents to leave the facility freely with family members. If this is the case at your loved one's aging service facility, you can continue to include your loved one in holidays, family outings, and special events. If this is too difficult, there are ways to bring family into the facility in a comfortable and enjoyable way. Some facilities may have small lounges or private dining rooms that you can reserve for family gatherings, like birthday dinners. There may be organized recreational events that include families, like annual summer picnics or holiday parties.

There are hundreds of little ways that you can make your loved one's aging services experience more positive and comfortable. Here are some ideas to help you brainstorm.

Remember that the more effort you put into your loved one's wellness, the more likely it is that your visits will be positive experiences. The worst thing you can do is stay away because of a bad visit or your loved one's complaints. Your absence won't help these negative sentiments, but your presence and positive energy can help diminish them.

Broaching the Subject of Aging Services with a Loved One

The best way to begin the aging services planning process is to open up the conversation with your loved one. This can be a very difficult thing to do and oftentimes, people put off discussing the sensitive topic until it is obvious to everyone that aging services are absolutely necessary. This however, is not a good idea, because those that delay are forced to make rushed decisions while dealing with a crisis and are less likely to settle comfortably into a facility of their choosing.

Because you want to involve your loved one in any aging services decisions as much as possible, initiating a conversation about aging services is a responsible way to ensure this. If you wait until they are hospitalized, they might not be able to take part in the decision to the same extent. Trust that you are doing your loved one a favor by broaching the topic.

Choose a quiet, comfortable place to bring it up. Listen carefully to any reservations that are voiced, and make clear that you hear and understand these concerns. Address them in a positive way. Point out the benefits of the aging services you are proposing (less isolation and more company, organized activities, prepared meals, better medical attention). You may have to be a little persistent in your discussion and steer it back towards the positives of quality care.

Aging services and long-term care decisions involve more than just the elderly client; they affect every one in his or her life. Giving all involved individuals a chance to voice their preferences and priorities is key ("I want you close by, Mom" or "I want to keep living on my own, but I'd like to be somewhere where meals are provided.").

Feeling out priorities is actually a good way to begin the conversation in a positive way. Ask yourself or your loved one what are the most important elements of your surroundings-the space where you reside, the daily activities you are able to engage in, the people you interact with, the medical assistance you have available. After determining your priorities, your search for the right facility will be easier and more directed.

Helping a Loved One Make a Smooth Adjustment

The first few weeks after a change in aging services care are an emotional adjustment for everyone involved-the elderly individual, his or her family, and even his or her new caregivers.

If you are adjusting to the presence of a new caregiver in your home or your loved one's home, you may find this adjustment more challenging than you originally expected. The key is to make both parties comfortable with the new arrangement: both the client and the caregiver. Treat your new caregiver with the same hospitality you would show a houseguest, explaining where things are, offering them things (like food or blankets) to stay comfortable, and letting them know how welcome they are in your home.

Once you have made your new caregiver feel at ease, tactfully let them know what makes you feel comfortable. Give your caregiver a sense of your living and care giving preferences, so that he or she can work with your daily routine. Don't be afraid to speak up about the way your caregiver does things (i.e. where he or she parks in the driveway, how loud he or she turns up the television) because you may have to live with the habits of this person for a long period of time and you want to eliminate all friction so that you can have pleasant and comfortable interactions on a day-to-day basis. The more effort you make to get comfortably acquainted with your caregiver, the less you (and your caregiver) will feel like he or she is a stranger in your home.

In the case of transferring to a new aging services facility, one of the simplest ways to ensure that your loved one acclimates to his or her new surroundings is to make these surroundings familiar. Bring decorating materials from home: picture frames, paintings, wreaths, ceramics, or blankets. Use these pieces to recreate the same atmosphere in the new living space and soften the feel of the room. This is particularly important in the case of nursing homes, which often have a more sterile feel. Ask if you can bring any furniture from home. Some nursing homes and most assisted living facilities allow this. A plant or two can brighten the room immeasurably, and give your loved one a project to tend to.

Another easy way to aid your love one's adjustment is to just be present. If your loved one moves to a new place, make sure to visit often during the first month. Introduce your loved one to his or her new caregivers and other residents, remind your loved one where things are in the facility, encourage them to go to activities, and just be supportive. You can help ease your loved one into their new surroundings by drawing them out and reinforcing the positive elements of their new home. They are less likely to feel alarmed or isolated if they see a familiar face beside them. Furthermore, if you are present, you will become familiar with your loved one's new caregivers and have the opportunity to relay your loved ones' needs and special preferences.

Search for ways for your loved one to continue with his or her interests and pastimes. Talk to their new caretakers or a recreation director to alert them to the activities that your loved has background and interest in. This increases the likelihood that the recreation department will actively seek him or her out to participate in activities. If you don't spot anything of interest on the activities calendar, you may want to propose an activity (i.e. book club, mini-golf). The recreation director may be flexible enough to accommodate your loved one's interests in the future. Find out what kind of religious services are available and encourage your loved one to take part in them.

Be an advocate and a pillar of emotional support, and your loved one will have a much smoother transition.

How to Get Involved in Your Loved One's Care

Don't limit your involvement in the aging services facility to your loved one's bedroom. There are a number of ways to get involved in an aging services facility as a whole that will in turn enhance your experience.

Many nursing homes have family councils that are made up of relatives and friends of the facility's residents. They usually meet once a month and aim to improve the quality of life in the facility. Joining a family council provides you with the opportunity to meet other family members who are going through similar experiences as you, and it also gives you a voice in the facility's operation.

You can also get involved by volunteering at the facility. Nursing homes are always in need of dedicated helpers, particularly in the recreation department. On holidays like Christmas, nursing homes are often lacking any volunteers and even low on staff. Family members are ideal volunteers because they have such a personal investment in the home and are frequently present.

You might be able to find a creative way to serve as a sort of liaison between the facility and the community. Say for example, that you work at a day care center. Why not organize a Halloween party in the nursing home and bring the kids parading through in their costumes? Because you have spent time in an aging services facility and are attuned to the needs of residents, you are in a unique position to connect the community with the facility. By enriching the life of the home, you enrich the life of your loved one.

National Family Caregivers Association

The National Family Caregivers Association
This organizations offers tips, information, and resources for family caregivers.

The First Day: Trying an Alzheimer's Day Center
This article, published by the Family Caregiver Alliance, tells the story of one family's experience with care in the adult day care setting.

Children of Aging Parents

Children of Aging Parents is a nonprofit, charitable organization whose mission is to assist the nation's nearly 54 million caregivers of the elderly or chronically ill with reliable information, referrals and support, and to heighten public awareness that the health of the family caregivers is essential to ensure quality care of the nation's growing elderly population.

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