Tips for Providing Care to Aging Parents
Today’s post is courtesy of Sarah Montague, a marketing professional and member of the sandwich generation.
Margaret (aka Peg) is a scientist, a Fulbright Scholar, an art historian, a writer, a painter, a sea kayak enthusiast, an avid gardener, a former ski racer, and her face lights up when she laughs. She helped raise three children and a menagerie of dogs, cats, donkeys, turtles, birds and other living creatures her children would bring home. Peg also has Alzheimer’s. Peg is my mom.
My mother is certifiably brilliant. In today’s popular parlance, you would say she is gifted. It is the greatest injustice that someone with such a beautiful mind now suffers from a disease that robs her of the abstract thinking she needs to be able to paint. It has robbed her of the short-term memory required to hold a conversation and to remember the name and age of my son. But when she sees Jack, her face lights up and she says, “He is such a gift.” And I say, “I know he is, Mom. And so are you.”
We didn’t have a traditional mother/daughter relationship. You don’t have that with someone like my mother. But this post is not about our relationship nor is it about how I observed my mom changing before the disease was officially diagnosed. Nor can I publicly share the crisis that required me to move mountains to get her into a safe living environment. And I can’t talk in detail about what the stress around my mother’s Alzheimer’s and my father’s Parkinson’s Disease has done to interfere with my sleep and now my health. For now, that is entirely too personal.
What I would like to share are my tips and strategies for others that are in the role of care provider for their own parent(s). I am hoping that in sharing this, there will be a little nugget of information that will help someone out there who is also trying to manage the challenges faced by those of us in the sandwich generation.
Tips for Caring for Aging Parents
1. Make sure your parents have an Advanced Health Care Directive in place. Talk to your parents about this early, before you see health signs that concern you. Find the health care forms that pertain to the state in which your parent resides.
2. Ask your parents if they have a legal will. Have conversations early about what they want as they advance in age. It doesn’t have to be a hard conversation. Say to them, “Listen Mom and Dad, we want to help put these papers and plans in order for you. What do you want to see happen?”
3. Have your parents fill out a Health Care Proxy. This is is a legal document that gives you and your siblings permission to talk to your parents’ doctors and make decisions for them if they are deemed incapable of making their own decisions. Again, search by state online. Here is what the health care proxy form for MA looks like.
4. Ask for help. If you have siblings, ask them for help and delegate duties you think they can handle. Even siblings like mine that live 3,000 miles away can participate in some fashion. But don’t wait for your siblings to offer to help, many times it can be overwhelming for people to really process that this is happening to their parent.
5. Don’t go it alone. Whatever you do, don’t go it alone. Go to www.alz.org, find your local chapter and join a support group of other caregivers. Find an advocate to help you with a lot of the details and timelines. There are great resources you can find on your state government website. Each state has a Department of Health and Human Services. In my case, I found an advocate in the State of Maine (I was living in Massachusetts at the time) and I paid for the service for an expert to help me navigate various state, insurance and legal waters. She also helped vet a number of assisted living facilities and when we found one that was perfect for my mom (it had a huge garden and the staff was warm and caring) she kept me on task so that I hit all the paperwork deadlines to ensure that mom qualified for care at this center and could be admitted as swiftly as possible.
Recently our team at Bright Horizons had the wonderful opportunity to be involved in creating a webinar that is focused on tips and strategies for Caring for a Loved One with Alzheimer’s. We had an outstanding expert in the field join us and she talked about the need to approach caring for a loved one as Valuing Individual Perspective. Not all individuals with dementia or Alzheimer’s are the same. Really think about the disease from the perspective of the person who has the disease. Provide care that honors who they are as a person. She had us do this very thoughtful exercise called “I am…”. We have posted an archive of the Alzheimer’s support webinar on the Bright Horizons Parenting Webinars website. Let us know what you think and please feel free to pass this information along to someone you know may find this helpful.
Sarah Montague is a former Bright Horizons parent, proud mom to her son Jack, and marketing executive. She loves to build things – but most of all, she loves to build brands, teams, and the careers of her colleagues.