The Elder 911 Crisis: Be Prepared
As a clinician, an entrepreneur and a baby boomer I join the ranks of the 70 million who now or in the future will lose sleep worrying about their Elder parents; or even an Elder spouse- and who struggle to find answers to the “What ifs” and “How do we dos’?”. However, the most commonly asked question among my patients, family and friends is: “Why is everything such a 911 Crisis at “their” age? The answer is simple: “Because time is not on their side, and they are afraid.” (and actually time is not on your side on either). Things happen fast, can go south quickly and there is no time to waste.
Many of us have had nightmares about that dreaded “911” call from the nursing home, the hospital, from your sister, from your father or your mother. Or, maybe not if you have 911 already on speed dial; or if you feel confident that your call forwarding function will let you dream on. The fact is that most women over the age of 50 don’t sleep through the night for a variety of reasons anyway. However, for those who are living with, caring for or dealing with an Elder there is a greater decrease in sleep and increase in anxiety which contributes to poor physical and mental health.
Aging is not a new development and has created psychological, physical, and social challenges for families for centuries. However, helping our Elders today requires we become professionals at navigating a very complicated healthcare and legal system. As our mobile society has separated adult children and aging parents an entire new set of caregiving and family challenges have emerged Adult children often dispute among themselves (or in court) a parent’s competency to live alone, or their ability to manage finances. Families are torn apart. Adult children need assistance in preparing wills, trusts and other legal documents. Getting through a day alone can be challenging for Elders – navigating through the medical bills can be terrifying. Even with support and assistance from siblings and spouses to help make decisions and coordinate logistics, becoming a caregiver is physically and emotionally exhausting. When your new best friend is the receptionist at the Medicare office, or the nurse at your father’s cardiologist office it is time for something to change. They say it takes a village to raise a child, but it takes a team of family members, doctors, social workers and attorneys to raise “an Elder”.
Being ready before the storm strikes can make the difference between life and death; and even between your sanity and insanity.
Be Prepared for The 911 Crisis
- Strengthen Sibling and Family Bonds
Families that seem to do the best in a crisis or who work most cooperatively day to day are usually families who have good, healthy, relationships before the crisis.
An unexpected family crisis, or one on the horizon often brings out the worst in families as personalities clash and past differences come out from under the rug. Give some serious thought to mending fences with your siblings and parents or other significant family members. You will need them as part of your team, if not now then down the road.
- Start Talking and Start Listening
Communication is the key to successful family intervention and caretaking. Gather the family and have a conversation about the importance of having “conversations” regarding your Elder.
Identify the top priorities for discussion. Be prepared that they may change daily or by the minute.
Everyone who has an interest should be included in the discussions.
Everyone should be encouraged to participate so that no one can later say, “I didn’t get to talk”, or “I didn’t know what was going on”.
Listen to all sides. There is usually more than one way to solve a crisis.
Obtain the help of an objective outside party if needed. Elder Care Mediators (the Boomer referees) are able to help families negotiate sensitive issues with a goal of having the best possible outcome for both you and your Elder.
- Become an Educated Consumer
Do your homework and become familiar with social service, geriatric management and legal resources that serve older adults. This will help create a better understanding of what services are available to you, how quickly these services can be performed and what costs are involved.
Learn about the variety of choices for supported living ahead of time. (Retirement communities, assisted living facilities and community based residential facilities)
- Evaluate Your Elder Yourself
Observe how they are dressing, grooming, walking and speaking. Notice any activity of daily living that may appear difficult for your Elder: such as cooking, cleaning, driving, reading, etc.
Look for sudden behavioral changes: depressed, quiet, agitated, or acting out of the norm. This could indicate a problem.
While mild forgetfulness affects most people as they age, the following problems in conversation could be an indication of memory impairment:
- Asking the same questions repeatedly, without remembering the answer
- Not referring to people by name
- Vagueness and lack of details in conversation (example “I just came back from the place near the store, where my friend lives”)