Balancing Act: How to Help Your Loved One Without Helping Too Much

“I want to do it myself!” As a parent, at some point, you have to learn to let go. Kids must be allowed to try and fail, hard as it is to stand by and watch. Growing up is all about making mistakes and learning how to do better, next time.

But what do you do when the roles are reversed, and it’s your aging parent who insists on acting independently, when you think she really needs help and is refusing to acknowledge limitations? Who’s right? How do you know?

That conflict can become especially intense after your loved one has been hospitalized for surgery or another serious medical issue, and he’s been cleared by health professionals to go back home. How can they be so sure he’ll be fine recuperating on his own? After all, you’re the one on the ground who sees how he’s changed—perhaps becoming weaker, maybe more forgetful—post hospitalization!

Respecting Your Loved One’s Need for Independence

For older adults who have been living successfully on their own until a medical crisis, reclaiming their lives prior to whatever landed them in the hospital is a strong motivator. They may take longer to get going in the morning. They may sleep more and nap during the day as they recover. They may need time to make appropriate lifestyle adjustments that seem obvious to you.

But that doesn’t mean they won’t figure out the best, new combination for self-care and daily activities that enables them to remain independent. In this best-case scenario, your aging parent is just on a different timetable than you.

So how do you know when it’s appropriate to insist on helping or getting help for your parent after a significant medical episode? The answer depends on several factors, including observed risks to health and safety, as well as how much and what kind of risk you can tolerate out of respect for your parent’s right to self-determination.

Separating Real Risk from Presumed Risk

Let’s take the serious risks, first. If your parent is having trouble remembering to take medications on schedule, if she is too weak or unable to make meals, if he is unsteady walking or climbing stairs, if she no longer cares about personal hygiene, if he forgets to pay bills—significant changes in behavior with real health risks for a person who was always capable, organized and independent require professional assessment.

However, what to do when the changes are more subtle and worrisome, but not life-threatening, involves not only an impartial assessment of your loved one’s situation, but also an honest self-inventory of your own fears and concerns. For a parent who already feels diminished by the natural aging process, declining strength and agility, and an awareness that her mind is not as sharp as it used to be, your insistence on providing help may be well-meaning, but not truly necessary—and cost your loved one’s self-respect.

Understanding When Your Needs May Be the Issue, Not Your Loved One’s

Here are three key questions to ask yourself if you are walking the fine line between helping appropriately and helping too much:

  1. What can my loved one DO, as opposed to NOT DO? It’s all too easy to dwell on the negative. Reframe your assessment by focusing on capabilities, first.
  2. Does our disagreement over appropriate help echo old conflicts and power struggles in our relationship? This one is hard to determine on your own and may require an unbiased third party to sort out. But it’s important to differentiate between what is actually at risk and what is a trigger for arguments that may have nothing to do with the facts on the ground.
  3. How much risk can my loved one live with—and am I able to tolerate that choice? If your aging parent understands the situation and attendant risks, and is able to make reasonable judgments about safety and health, then there comes a point when you will need to let go. Whatever fear and guilt you may carry about the possibility of your loved one getting hurt or sick due to lack of help is your issue to work through, not your parent’s. This can be a tough path to travel, but it can also be freeing.

An Aging Life Care Manager® can provide an impartial, expert evaluation of your loved one’s status, help you to navigate the murky stretches of your journey together, and recommend next steps for appropriate assistance, home modifications and future care options. Remember, while these decisions may seem intractable, there is help and support available—for all of you.

President of Deborah Fins Associates, PC, since 1995, Deborah Liss Fins is a licensed independent clinical social worker and certified Aging Life Care Manager™. Drawing on more than 35 years of professional experience in aging life care management, DFA offers comprehensive assessments and planning, guidance in selecting appropriate care, help identifying resources for financial support and professional consulting. Please contact us to set up a complimentary initial telephone consultation.

For more on coping with aging, follow us on Twitter: @DeborahFinsALCM.

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Deb’s Best Practices for Keeping Your Aging Loved One Safe

As our loved ones age, their safety becomes a top-of-the-mind concern. Should they still be driving? Are they able to handle a snow storm or a power outage? What if they fall and no one is there to hear or help?

Over the past few years, we’ve written many blog posts about how to ensure that your aging loved one lives in a safe, secure environment. Now we’ve compiled the best of those posts into a free eBook, For Safety’s Sake: How to Reduce the Risk of Accident or Injury for your Aging Loved One.

Among the topics:

  • How to assess whether your loved one is safe living alone;
  • What to expect in a home safety inspection and why it’s necessary;
  • 7 tips to reduce fall risks;
  • How to keep your loved one safe and comfortable in severe weather or power outages;
  • When is it time to take away the car keys;
  • How to help your aging parent travel safely.

To download your free copy, visit our eBook page here.

President of Deborah Fins Associates, PC, since 1995, Deborah Liss Fins is a licensed independent clinical social worker and certified Aging Life Care Manager™. Drawing on more than 35 years of professional experience in aging life care management, DFA offers comprehensive assessments and planning, guidance in selecting appropriate care, help identifying resources for financial support and professional consulting. Please contact us to set up a complimentary initial telephone consultation.

For more on coping with aging, follow us on Twitter: @DeborahFinsALCM.

View Privacy Policy here.

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Winter Weather Advisory: How to Keep Your Aging Loved One Safe in a Blizzard

As we head into the new year, there hasn’t yet been much snow here in Southern New England. But, as anyone who lives here long enough knows, this is probably the calm before inevitable winter storms.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) annual winter outlook for 2018-2019 predicts a milder winter throughout much of the U.S., with a colder and wetter season in southern states—and possible extreme cold in the Northeast, depending on the movement of arctic air masses, known as the Arctic Oscillation.

Whatever we’re in for, it’s essential to have a good plan in place for your aging loved one before a major winter storm hits. Snow, ice and coastal flooding can wreak havoc on your or another caregiver’s ability to reach your loved one during a severe storm. Extreme cold poses serious risks for a fragile adult’s health.

Here are some tips to help you keep your loved one safe, whatever winter has in store:

Before a Winter Weather Event

  • Be informed. Sign up for local weather alerts.
  • Create and review an emergency plan for your loved one. How will they get medical treatment or home health care if you cannot leave your home or providers cannot get to them?
  • Assemble an emergency kit, including extra winter clothing and blankets.
  • Be sure that they have non-perishable food on hand and needed medications.
  • Know locations of nearby public shelters.
  • Prepare for possible power outages. Equip your loved one’s home with flashlights, spare batteries, a battery-powered or hand-cranked radio. Ask neighbors to check on their well-being. See more tips for power outages here.
  • Check that their heating system is in proper working condition and that fuel levels can last through the storm.

During the Storm

  • You and your loved one should minimize outdoor activities. Drive only if absolutely necessary and with appropriate equipment (snow tires, AWD, clean windshield and working wipers).
  • Keep pets safe.
  • Check in with your loved one to be certain they are wearing warm clothing and using heat (not trying to save money by keeping on the oven!)

After the Storm Passes

  • Continue to monitor weather conditions and your loved one’s safety.
  • Call 911 to report emergencies.
  • Take your loved one to a warming center or shelter, if needed. But stay off streets until cleared of snow and ice!
  • Clear exhaust vents to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning from furnaces and be sure any secondary heating systems are well-ventilated.

What to Do if Your Loved One Is Not Safe at Home Alone

  • Consider a respite stay, arranged in advance of the storm, at an assisted living or other community that has generators to maintain power.
  • Install a system that will notify you if temperature in their home drops below a certain point.
  • If your loved one already has private duty help, perhaps extend hours for the caregiver to live-in during the storm.
  • Notify police and fire (especially in smaller towns) to watch out for your loved one’s well being.
  • Arrange for snow removal with a reliable service. Make sure your loved one understands that it’s not a good idea to hire just anyone walking by, as they could get scammed.
  • Watch for warning signs of hypothermia, which can be life-threatening:
    • Cold feet and hands
    • Puffy or swollen face
    • Pale skin
    • Shivering (although not always)
    • Slow speech or slurring
    • Confusion
    • Shallow breathing

President of Deborah Fins Associates, PC, since 1995, Deborah Liss Fins is a licensed independent clinical social worker and certified Aging Life Care Manager™. Drawing on more than 35 years of professional experience in aging life care management, DFA offers comprehensive assessments and planning, guidance in selecting appropriate care, help identifying resources for financial support and professional consulting. Please contact us to set up a complimentary initial telephone consultation.

For more on coping with aging, follow us on Twitter: @DeborahFinsALCM.

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How to Talk with Clients in Troubled Times

Whatever your views on the news, outrage rules the Internet and airways. It’s hard to avoid, and it’s hard not to feel weighed down by the latest dark headlines about raging wildfires, flooded communities, mass shootings, trade wars, nuclear arms races, the opium epidemic, political name-calling and dysfunctional government.

It’s also hard not to let those worries intrude on your work with clients. When helping individuals who are already vulnerable, the last thing you want to do is let your own insecurities and fears about the world undermine your ability to help them feel safe.

So what do you say when a client who is a Holocaust survivor brings up the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting? Or a client who bootstrapped her way from immigrant poverty to a comfortable life criticizes the migrant caravan at the Texas border?

Especially if clients express viewpoints that challenge your personal values, how do you remain present and supportive without crossing boundaries that compromise your professional relationship?

Here are a few ways to take care of yourself that will help you better care for your clients in troubling times:

  • Set limits on your consumption of news and social media. Facebook and other platforms are engineered to be addictive, monetizing controversy to increase clicks and shares. Even reliable news sources benefit from headlines that tap strong emotions. While it’s important to stay informed when so much is at stake, try to limit how often you check your Twitter feed and online news services during the day. Avoid overdosing on pundit analysis before bedtime. Be selective in your news sources and learn to recognize click bait.
  • Cultivate a calm, measured manner when speaking with clients about current events. We are mirrors for those who depend on us. If you can remain composed when listening to your client’s concerns about the latest news, he will be more likely to calm down, too.
  • Don’t talk politics unless your client brings it up. Even if you have just learned some news that is causing you distress, your client may well have no idea what’s going on. Call a friend, family member or co-worker to decompress, as needed at an appropriate time, but don’t sound off to your client. That’s not what you’re there for.
  • If your client expresses political views that you find offensive, agree to disagree. This is tough, and it comes with some caveats. Should those views intentionally or unintentionally target your race, religion, gender orientation or other personal qualities, it’s fair to explain how that makes you feel—as a teachable moment, not an accusation. In general, however, it’s best to set personal political differences aside and to focus on the care-related issues at hand.
  • Strive for empathy and remember to take a “patience pill.” So much of what divides us today comes down to fear of losing what we hold most dear. Compassionate listening can be a powerful antidote. Patience, of course, is crucial to all that we do as Aging Life Care Professionals®. And when you’re done for the day, be sure to make time for that nice soak in the tub or a good comedy on your favorite streaming service to unwind and remember the good things in life.

President of Deborah Fins Associates, PC, since 1995, Deborah Liss Fins is a licensed independent clinical social worker and certified Aging Life Care Manager™. Drawing on more than 35 years of professional experience in aging life care management, DFA offers comprehensive assessments and planning, guidance in selecting appropriate care, help identifying resources for financial support and professional consulting. Please contact us to set up a complimentary initial telephone consultation.

For more on coping with aging, follow us on Twitter: @DeborahFinsALCM.

View Privacy Policy here.

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How to Increase the Odds of Aging in Place

No one dreams of living in a nursing home someday. The ideal is to live out our lives in the comfort of our own homes. Luck is certainly a factor in realizing the goal of “aging in place” —health risks increase with each decade, and chronic disease, dementia and fragility may make it too dangerous to remain at home forever.

But planning ahead to age in place as long as possible can increase the odds of a life well-lived at home. There are many factors to consider. A realistic financial plan is a must, even if all the variables for future medical needs cannot be anticipated. So is a safe living arrangement that can accommodate an older adult’s increasing physical limitations.

Here are some of the factors to take into consideration when evaluating your loved one’s ability to age in place—or your own:

  • How easy is it for your loved one to move around her home without risk of falls or other mishaps?
  • What transportation resources are available if and when he has to stop driving?
  • How much work is required to keep her home clean and functional? What support is available to help with household chores as tasks become more difficult?
  • How well can he manage his health and personal care needs, including doctor’s visits, medications, fitness routines and good nutrition?
  • Is she at risk of becoming socially isolated?

Get a Professional Assessment to Help You Plan

As you sort through these questions, it can help to get a professional assessment of your loved one’s strengths and limitations by a physical and/or occupational therapist. If you go this route and your loved one is on Medicare, remember to get a referral through his or her primary care physician so that the evaluation is covered.

Physical therapists can help to determine whether unresolved, chronic pain that limits your loved one’s mobility and strength can be eased with appropriate exercise and the right equipment. (No, it’s NOT a good idea for Mom to use Dad’s old cane when it’s the wrong size for her, just to save money.)

Occupational therapists, in turn, specialize in assessing safety of living spaces and can recommend accommodations that enable your loved one to remain independent when it comes to basic daily activities, such as bathing, eating and maintaining personal hygiene. They can also spot risky areas in the home, such as scatter rugs and rickety stairs, that should be fixed or modified in order to prevent falls.

Research Financing Options for Home Modifications

Many creative and functional adaptations can be made to homes; if such modifications are necessary, from installing a stair lift to reconfiguring a floor plan, be sure to hire contractors who specialize in this type of work. They will be up-to-date on the latest thinking and codes to ensure that your loved one’s home is safe. The Massachusetts Home Modification Loan Program provides interest-free loans up to $50,000 to support the costs of such adaptations, with repayment not required until the home is sold or the property’s title or deed is transferred. Nationwide, a variety of programs are also available, ranging from veteran’s benefits to free labor.

While circumstances will certainly change as your loved one grows older, an Aging Life Care Manager™ can work with you and your loved one to assess her or his needs, whether aging in place is a realistic option, and how best to make that dream a reality for as long as possible.

President of Deborah Fins Associates, PC, since 1995, Deborah Liss Fins is a licensed independent clinical social worker and certified Aging Life Care Manager™. Drawing on more than 35 years of professional experience in aging life care management, DFA offers comprehensive assessments and planning, guidance in selecting appropriate care, help identifying resources for financial support and professional consulting. Please contact us to set up a complimentary initial telephone consultation.

For more on coping with aging, follow us on Twitter: @DeborahFinsALCM.

View Privacy Policy here.

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