about home care…About Home Care

It’s tempting to brush away warning signs that your mom, dad or other senior relative could use help at home.

Most boomers are overworked and overwhelmed by schedules that whittle away personal “me time.” So it’s only human to hope that elders can make it on their own for a little while longer. Seniors want the same. And they usually can extend independence, often for life, with help at home.

Take this dose of wisdom from national aging experts: It’s better to plan and intervene earlier  than wait for a crisis call. “Family conversations” about late-life “should take place early and often,” while health is fine and there are no problems, says Elinor Ginzler, senior vice president of AARP’s Livable Communities in the Office of Social Impact.

Invite senior relatives to discuss how they want to handle possible future difficulties. You might say, “This is all about you staying in control, Mom and Dad. The best way to do that is letting us know how you want stuff to be,” Ginzler suggests. It’s much easier to modify a home so that a bedroom and accessible full bathroom are on the first floor before a health crisis than during or after one, Ginzler says. That’s also the time to learn about in-home services.

“The message to people is adaptation – trying to use adaptive mechanisms,” such as an extended shoehorn and assistive devises, says Wendy Lustbader, a nationally known speaker and Seattle social worker who teaches at the University of Washington School of Social Work. She is the author of multiple books on aging, including “Taking Care of Aging Family Members: A Practical Guide,” written with Nancy Hooyman. Deciding when you need home help “gets down to the basics of food, clothing, and shelter,” the same criteria long-term care insurers use, she notes. So if going down the basement steps to do laundry has “become life-threatening, that person has to have someone come in and do that for them. It’s an extremely concrete decision.”

Lustbader adds: “When one of those essentials of life is just not possible anymore, you have to face the music. It’s a very tough point for people. Accepting a little bit of help is far smarter than accidents.” Ginzler suggests that when you’re visiting your elder relative, “put on that detective hat.” Offer to do some seasonal cleaning and “look at the house with fresh eyes,” she says. “You’re looking for changes” in the elder and in the home.

Then talk over with your older relative what you’ve noticed and possible causes and solutions. Approach your older relative with respect and caring, using “I” messages, Ginzler suggests: “I’m worried. I care. I want to be sure you’re OK.” “It’s probably a recipe for disaster to say, ‘I know better than you’.”

Elders often respond to direct personal requests, such as accepting in-home help so their children won’t worry about them, she says. Seniors are often reluctant to admit having difficulties because they’re afraid of being forced into assisted living or a nursing home. In-home care may prevent that: “Sometimes you can get by with very minimal assistance,” Lustbader notes.

If your parent refuses to consider the in-home care they need, sometimes someone else is better able to intervene, such as a trusted doctor, minister, friend, nurse, therapist or lawyer. Other seniors may prefer to plan for disability care for themselves so their children don’t have to worry or make decisions. Some parents lament that they can’t get children to recognize their need for help.

“Do your relative a favor,” Lustbader concludes. “Gather information and present it to them with the options.”

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