Scene 1) I walked into a home to do a care consult. It quickly becomes clear that the elder, a man in his late 80s, feels he is perfectly safe staying at home alone and he needs no help whatsoever.
There were papers stacked up half a foot on top of his dining room table. It was literally covered. He is in his bathrobe (he knew I was coming, it was 1 p.m.). His son is sitting with us at the kitchen table. As the man waxes eloquent about how independent he has always been in his life - and needs no help now whatsoever, his son rolls his eyes.
“Dad, didn’t you need help the day Jennie was here and had to call 911 even though you were wearing your lifeline? She said you forgot you had it on.” “You are too heavy for people to pick you up off the floor.”
The father stared for a minute. “Weeeelll, that was a one-time thing. I just accidentally slipped to the floor off my bed and couldn’t get up, that’s all.” The son rolls his eyes. The father pushes his walker a little further away from himself.
“What about help with your meds, Dad?” The Dad looks at his son. He shakes his head, no. “Dad - I’m going to tell her what happened last week.” “Not necessary,” the father chirps. “DAD!” “Don’t be mad at me - I’m telling her anyway.” The son looks directly at me. “He got his medications into the wrong day on his mediset - and put in a laxative instead of his potassium supplement. He spent two days living near his toilet in the bedroom.”
The Dad had a rebuttal. “I don’t need anyone coming in here.” He asserts. “I’m doing just fine. I’ve never needed help before - and certainly don’t need any now.”
Reality checks and reminders of past harrowing almost-crisis events would not deter this guy. Cajoling from loved ones making a case, asking him to consider that his doctor had asked him to get help - all to no avail.
And this is a Dad with long term care insurance who wouldn’t have to spend a dime for his help. His rationale? “Weeell, if everyone used their insurance - there would be no one making any money on it.” Telling him he had already paid for it didn’t help. I left the contract there with the family. The kids would have to cross their fingers and hope Dad didn’t get hurt while they continued to try to find a way to convince him he needed safety assistance.
Scene 2) My friend called and asked me to check in on her sister. I showed up at the house to meet a woman in her eighties with oxygen, moving very slowly and deliberately. Her breathing was very labored.
We settled at the kitchen table and began to talk. She explained that her husband had early onset dementia and had just committed himself to a local assisted living home. It was going to be very, very expensive. Her son was looking into selling their home. She was mortified.
The woman pushed the placemat corner to a fold. She was exhausted and not sure how to take care of herself. Her lung disease made it not only hard to breathe - but the lack of oxygen to her brain kept her foggy and confused.
Her mantra seemed to be “I just can’t handle this.” I listened intently as she explained that her husband was getting all the attention from her two children, who didn’t seem to realize she is unable to do basic things in her home. She is alone all the time now, and can’t even walk her dog - or cook a full meal for herself. She became agitated easily. Eventually we discover she has long term insurance - and wouldn’t have to pay for her care at all.
It soon became clear that she was completely unable to make this decision for herself. She didn’t want me to speak with her daughter yet - because she didn’t have a close relationship, and didn’t feel the daughter would be helpful. She scoffed at her sister’s concern while asking me to send her help. But she didn’t want to sign a contract. She just couldn’t decide.
She enjoyed her first few hours of support getting her Christmas tree down, then couldn’t get comfortable with a stranger coming into her home. When she ran into a small detail with our office - she cancelled all care saying “I just can’t handle anything that requires decisions.”
When she slowly climbs the stairs, she rests at the top for several minutes.
She still hasn’t signed a contract.
She remains home alone with no outside help.
In Today’s World
Because our culture does such a poor job of preparing our population for the realities and ravages of aging - families remain wildly unprepared for the situations ahead of them. If you have not established the legal power of attorney for an aging parent, or spoken with them about medical power of attorney, or set up a plan of care for the time when your parent is no longer capable of making good decisions for themselves - you may very well find yourself in one of these situations.
The crisis is that there are so many - and they are alarmingly preventable. Don’t let your loved one have to experience crisis and hospitalization before you have time to set up in home care to prevent falls, medication disasters, hoarding problems and all the other intensely difficult situations that arise when we neglect to remember that after about eighty - our parents REALLY NEED US.
Julie Ann Soukoulis is the owner of Home Instead Senior care office in Rohnert Park, mother of two and passionate about healthy living at all ages. Having cared for her parents, she understands your struggles and aims, through her website, www.homeinstead.com/sonoma to educate and encourage seniors and caregivers. Have a caregiving or aging concern? She would love to hear from you at 586-1516 anytime.