Resistance to Help: Easing the Transition into Home Care
Most of us accept that as we age, some of our most beloved activities may eventually fade into the past as memories. Long hikes over rocky terrain, for example, may no longer be considered safe or accessible once we are beyond a certain age. We are forced to adjust. A long mountain hike might be replaced with a daily stroll over paved suburban roads. A bracing ocean swim might transform into a set of laps at the local Y. If we are lucky enough to be able to find satisfying ways to adjust to the changes and limitations in our bodies as we get older, we are very fortunate. Adjusting our physical activity level requires a mental and emotional adjustment as well, and letting go of the abilities of our youth can sometimes cause restlessness, depression, and even a sense of failure. When physical or mental limitations are more severe, sometimes the entire family must rework its thinking about the future.
What happens from our perspective as the spouse or adult child of an older person who is no longer able to accomplish simple everyday tasks such as dressing, bathing, preparing, or even eating meals? What happens when dementia changes your loved one’s ability to care for him- or herself? The realization that this is occurring, and that the change will likely only continue in one direction, can be terrifying. Thinking about the difficulty of simply making it through the day with the added challenge of helping another person to bathe, eat, dress, take medications, and keep the home clean can be overwhelming. But of course the resources to help families in exactly this situation are abundant, and if you are reading this article, you are well on your way to receiving the help you need. But discovering the resources can be the easiest part of the process of getting help when resistance is coming from the inside, and our loved one refuses the idea of a caregiver outside the family. Now what?
If it is difficult to relinquish enjoyable activities to the past, it is far more so to relinquish control over our own lives. Many people find the loss of privacy very difficult to face. We all wish to retain our dignity and sense of self as we age, and it can be very hard to face the truth when we need help. Most patients with dementia have long periods of lucidity in which they are more than able to state their indignation and anger at the idea that they can no longer achieve a safe and acceptable level of self-care. And older persons with physical but no mental limitations can be just as insistent that their husband, wife, son or daughter suits them just fine as a caregiver. The truth is, sometimes the burden is too much for a family member to handle alone, and even the most qualified and nurturing caregiver can be seen as the enemy. So how do we achieve our goal of making sure our loved one is cared for while also preserving our own health? How do we convince our relative that a caregiver is going to become a part of his or her life, and that it is going to be okay?
The most important aspect of this process is to involve our loved one as much as possible in the choices that are going to be made for care. If you are able to have a conversation with your relative about your plans to bring in a caregiver and you meet with resistance, talk about your understanding of the situation from his or her point of view as well as your own, and make sure to listen to his or her side. Next, explain that you want the best for you parent or spouse and that you want to insure his or her safety, health, and comfort, but that you are unable to accomplish this alone. Explain that you worry when you are not able to be present, and that you will feel relieved to know that your loved one has everything he or she needs and is being well-cared for. Make an assurance that you will do everything in your power to make the transition as easy as possible. Of course, you may explain and assure and continue to be met with resistance. What then? Let your loved one know that this is something you can and want to do to help, and that it is what you both need.
When it comes time to find caregivers, you’ll want to give Senior Alternatives as much information about your relative as possible so that we can apply our experience to your needs. We consider the idea that your loved one and the caregiver are likely going form a long-term relationship, so we think about personality types that match, and even hobbies and interests in common, if possible. If your family member and the caregiver have something to talk about that strikes a comfortable chord, it is all the more likely that the caregiver will be accepted more readily into the daily life of the home.
Once the right match is made for your parent or spouse, it’s time to begin the process of slowly integrating the caregiver into the home. Though this might temporarily add to your level of stress by requiring more from you initially, slowly easing your relative into the caregiver’s presence, and the new routines, will pay off for everyone in the end. For example, at first your new caregiver might come to the home close to lunchtime and help prepare a meal and join you at the table. An ordinary activity like eating lunch together, when you are also present, can help normalize the caregiver’s sudden addition to the household. On the next visit, the caregiver might stay longer and follow a meal with a quiet activity that your parent or spouse enjoys, like playing cards, reading aloud, or watching a favorite film on television. On the following visit, you can try leaving the home for a short period of time so that your relative has a chance to slowly adjust to the idea of being alone with the caregiver when you are not present. You know your own family member best, so it will be up to you and the rest of your family to sense how quickly to move forward with longer periods of time. If the situation is very comfortable early on, you might go ahead with what will become the caregiver’s normal routine. On the other hand, it may be very tense and uncomfortable for some time and need sensitive handling.
The final step in securing the best home care situation for you and your loved one is to remember to lean on your caregiver for support. She is there for both of you and brings years of education and experience in the door with her each time she arrives, along with an inherent understanding of your emotional condition as it relates to your loved one’s needs. And while nobody can find it easy to accept the need for help in doing simple everyday tasks that once didn’t merit a second thought, eventually your relative will become used to the caregiver’s presence and come to rely on her aid. It is important that you remember to do the same, and that despite the difficulty of making a caregiver a part of your home life, you all have the same goal: the well-being of the person you love, which is well worth a bit of a struggle.