Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A Holiday Update - Let There Be Peace on Earth

Well, Thanksgiving and Christmas Part 1 (of 4) is behind us.  Our family rarely has a chance to gather everyone together and this year's festivities will long be remembered as the Thanksgiving of 12 people, six dogs, the first grandchild and Granny.  Ah, eldercare at the holidays....

Our grandmother has long been a handful.  This year alone, she was asked to leave her assisted living complex, fired her private duty company (AGAIN), moved into senior housing and finally met a wonderful professional caregiver who helps her daily.  She refuses to make use of her facility's social outreach, so she's often lonely.  Knowing that, our aunt brought her to Thanksgiving with the mass of visitors descending on mom and dad's home.  Plus, we were all excited to get to spend time with her and that she could enjoy her great-grandson.  At 90 years old, she's losing her sight, is very fragile and has a hard time walking.  With so much commotion in the house, we all were very conscious to make sure that no one (or dog) tripped her or got in her way.  We made sure to include her in conversations and let her judge what she was capable of doing.  From what we knew, everyone had a great time.  There was no drama and even the dogs got along with each other as well as the toddler chasing them around.

Little did we know a day later that she would lead an extended-family vent session.  On the three hour drive back home, she spent the entire time saying how there were too many people, too many dogs and in general nothing was right.  Our aunt finally had it and told her that her negativity was getting to her.  Granny interpreted this as our aunt having a complete physical breakdown (not the case).  This led to much angst, yelling and phone calls from Granny to anyone who would listen.  All of the sudden, our wonderful Thanksgiving turned into the trigger that had people from four different states up in arms resulting in bruised feelings and resentments.  Unfortunately, this situation probably sounds very familiar to many families out there.  We may be luckier than some as we made it through Thanksgiving.

I'm very fortunate that I'm removed enough from the situation to help offer both an ear to listen as well as a bit of perspective.  In our situation, everyone wants to help, but we're all reacting to the facts as we know them.  From our vantage point, we're doing everything we can to offer our support to Granny and make sure that she has everything that she needs to age safely in place.  We also have finally come to the realization that no matter how much we do, SHE is in control of her well-being.  For example, we know she is lonely, so we made sure to find a facility that has social programs.  We even encouraged her professional caregiver to bring her down to the common areas.  But, she refuses to use the resources as her disposal and resists any attempts to meet new friends or take part in activities. 

Our extended family members are reacting to the information that they have.  Namely that she feels that we are trying to ignore her, don't respect the challenges that she is going through and that she's unhappy.  Needless to say, this makes us defensive.  What does all this have in common?  Lack of communication.  Our family uses Making Care Easier (MCE), but had not invited our extended family members to join our care team--big mistake.  If we had, everyone would know what has been done in the past to deal with Granny's problems.  Not only that, but they would understand the tremendous amount of work our aunt puts in and how we help from afar.  We started MCE to help families caring for elderly parents and little did we know how much it could help our own family as well.
Now that even the leftovers are gone and everyone's back at their respective homes, we're making a better effort to communicate with everyone Granny relies on.  We love and respect her and want to make sure that everyone has all the CORRECT information about her care.  We don't want another repeat of Thanksgiving's aftermath.  After all, "it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas"….

It's Thanksgiving, Sort of

We are about to have six dogs and twelve people converge on our parents' home for the holiday. Thankfully, my parents have a good sized back yard and plenty of sleeping room. Now, if all the personalities could fit in the house.

My mom has been looking forward to this for a long time. Yet, I constantly hear mumbles in her voice about how our grandmother is going to ruin everything. Chances are, she might. But, if we plan for that to happen, and assume the worst, we may be predicting our own future.

While more easily said than done, we have encouraged everyone to plan for the best and manage exceptions. If we constantly predict and plan for the worst, we often encourage the worst to happen. So this year, we are encouraging everyone to have a good time and let my grandmother just be. We are all old enough that our mom is now the grandmother and we want her to enjoy the time with her grandson.

If it is a traditional holiday there will be something that goes astray, but worrying won't add to anyone's enjoyment.  Just in case, my plan is to get a good bottle of wine and plan on spending a lot of time playing with my son and the dogs. Or, better yet, enjoy everyone for who they are and that we are all here together--which is somewhat of a miracle given all that we have been through. Not sure this will work, but it is worth a try and I thank God we are all here together.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Family Dynamics of Caring for an Elderly Parent

Three years ago, my sister didn’t send my son a graduation card.  I’m always hosting family dinners at my house, but no one returns the favor.  No matter how many times I ask my brother to do something, I always end up doing it myself.  By the time most people need to care for their parents, they already have years of family dynamics and history that drive their interactions with one another. 

Caring for parents takes a lot of time, is frustrating, forces families to make hard decisions and can be both difficult and rewarding.  With all the stresses associated with caregiving, unresolved tensions rear their ugly heads and we have a tendency to fall back into the family dynamics established in childhood.  But, caring for parents is such an important family activity that siblings have to work together to effectively manage all that needs to be done.

Working together can be difficult, but there are steps you can take to ease the burden.  Start by forming a care team and establish the best ways to communicate.  Keeping family members up-to-date on what's happening with your parents is an important step if you hope to have siblings actively involved in providing care.  Plus, sharing what needs to be done and regular progress updates help all family members have an accurate perception of your parents' conditions. 

A major source of tension for siblings tends to be the division of labor and responsibilities for care.  The majority of caregiving is done by one person and all siblings should be aware of the work that each person is doing.  Be sure to ask for help from your family members and offer them specific opportunities to help.  Be honest and direct with siblings and realize that sometimes they cannot or will not help no matter how much you talk with them.  Find outside help from family friends or professional caregivers.

Caring for parents can strain even the best of family relationships.  Don't expect family members to change overnight.  Give both your siblings and yourself time to adjust to changing family dynamics as everyone accepts new caregiving roles and responsibilities.  Try and keep a positive attitude and be sure to reach out to family members for help and support throughout your caregiving journey.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Did You Forget Who the Star of This Show Is?

Right now, our lives are a little busy.  My sister is helping start Making Care Easier and is traveling around the US helping to support her former boss - Mitt Romney.  Mike and I are working six days a week.  Mary just moved and is dealing with all the hastles that that involves and taking care of Granny.  Mom and dad are traveling and trying to sell their house that has been on the market for about a year (4 bed, 2 bath in Streator, IL anyone?)  Who has time for Granny?  You WILL ALL make time, that’s who.

Our grandmother is a wonderful person and we love her a lot.  We recently lost our grandfather and her health started to decline.  We were to help them age in place for your many years, but despite our best efforts, she couldn’t safely stay in her home of 60 years.  We found an excellent, brand new assisted living facility in her community that she now lives in.  She wasn’t happy about the move, but we did everything we could to make the transition as painless as possible.  Despite the wonderful people who are working at the facility, the beautiful rooms and activities, personal attention and support from our family—the transition did not go smoothly.

According to the staff, it typically takes about six months for seniors to adjust.  Losing control on top of adapting to a new environment is a lot to deal with for someone who’s almost 90 years old.  What a better time to act out. "I can’t self-medicate anymore?  I’m in prison!  I know I’ve had digestive issues for about 50 years, but I just know this time they gave me salmonella.  It’s like they are trying to do me in." 

First of all, the people at Granny’s assisted living facility have been doing a great job.  The facility is clean; the people are nice and go out of their way to meet her demands.  She is safe, well cared for and although no one is perfect, they try.  Secondly, Mary is a saint.  She is the only one of us who lives close by, so she’s always the one forced to call off work to take her to emergency appointments and gets the daily calls with the latest complaints or demands.

Now that Granny no longer lives at home, we try and do things that help her know that we’re still thinking of her like sending cards, frequent calls, visits, trips, etc.  But, it’s hard to get used to living outside the glare of the spotlight when you’re now just part of the crew.  So, she acts out.  It’s not that she’s a bad person, but it’s her way of dealing with so much change happening so quickly. 

Together as a care team, we are trying to help her through this transition and although our schedules are crazy, we have to make time for Granny.  Just being there to listen goes a long way to reassuring her that she’s in the best place that offers her the best care available.  Talking through her concerns validates her and makes her feel like she’s still an active part of our lives.
Most importantly, we are finding out that reaching out to each other and particularly Mary (the primary caregiver) is critical in helping all of us manage through these stressful times.  Thankfully, we have been able to keep a sense of humor throughout the process, which goes a long way to keeping us all sane.  Even if we can’t be there physically, supporting each other through frequent communication and sharing ways and means to help each other goes a long way to sharing the burden of care.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Introducing Making Care Easier

Some gradually inherit the role of caregiver as their parents needs expand and bit by bit they shoulder an increasing burden of care. Others are thrust into caregiving and their lives and priorities change overnight.
For our family, change came gradually. We recently lost our grandfather, who fought in World War II, was married to his wife for 64 years, raised two daughters and lived most of his life in perfect health. But when he hit his 70's, change came slowly-not only for him, but for our entire family.

Our family is lucky because our aunt is amazing. She lives close by our grandparents and served as our grandparents' primary caregiver. From emergency calls to trips to the store to taking time off to run Gramps to appointments, she single-handedly provided excellent care. It's not that we didn't want to help or couldn't, but we live hundreds of miles away and aren't there facing the challenges of daily caregiving. While our visits were nice and the financial support was greatly appreciated, we didn't know what else to do. Not only was this burden hard for her, but our mother felt incredible guilt for not being able to help more. When you're far away, it's hard to know what needs to be done and how to help.

For others, change comes as quickly as a phone call. Whether it's a hip fracture or heart failure, families' lives are changed forever. With new needs and information to learn, everything seems to happen at once. Often, there are many people who offer to help, but families are more focused on getting to the next step of recovery than managing caregiving tasks. We developed Making Care Easier (MCE) to help families who are caring for their aging parents.

Throughout our caregiving experiences, we learned what worked and starting thinking of ways to improve what didn't. Caregiving is one of the most challenging things most people will ever do and MCE is working to provide tools for families to rally around their parents and be an active part of caring. MCE is about helping caregivers tell their families what needs to be done and helping family members share the burden of care. It's about wading through the mass information out there to provide helpful resources. Most of all, it's about Making Care Easier.

For more information or to register for free. visit  We're very excited to hear about your caregiving experiences and look forward to hearing more so we can build tools that work.