WHEN TO OFFER HELP
In 2000, Family Circle and Kaiser Family Foundation conducted a joint study, designed to examine the experiences of adults in the course of caring for an aging parent. The study findings reflect the perceptions and experiences of adult children, related to their parents 65 years of age or older.
Feelings Associated with Caregiving
All too often, an elder wants to retain his or her independence, and doesn't want to become a burden on their loved ones. In order to maintain their independence, the elder may attempt to hide the fact that they are struggling, and are in need of assistance.
One way that you may learn of a problem, is when you receive a phone call in the middle of the night. When you answer the phone you hear "Your mother is in the emergency room, she's fallen and broken her hip." As the closest living relative you receive the call, and within minutes you are being faced new responsibilities as your mother's caregiver.
Not all problems occur as a crisis, but instead evolve in a gradual series of warning signs spanning weeks, months, or years. You may notice that the elder is having difficulty cleaning the house, cooking meals, paying bills, or that you are finding yourself speaking louder so that you can be understood.
A recurrent theme expressed, is the fear of broaching the subject of whether or not, an elder is capable of caring for themselves. In addition, once it is clear that the elder is in need of assistance, there is often confusion as to what is the best way to proceed. This is a delicate balancing act, ensuring an elder's health and safety, while maintaining their independence and dignity.
The real challenge facing elders and their loved ones, is the ability to differentiate normal aging, from the warning signs that something may be wrong, requiring some form of intervention. It is important to note that we all have a bad day - our hair in uncombed, we forget an appointment, or we feel depressed; however a recurrent pattern may indicate a problem.
We are providing a list of some questions that may help you evaluate if there is a potential problem, but this list is only meant to serve as a guide. If a problem is suspected, the elder needs to be seen by a professional who can conduct a complete medical evaluation and a geriatric assessment, and help determine the best way to proceed.
It is only natural that when we become scared or concerned about an elder, our first impulse is to express our concerns, and immediately look to "fix" the problem. Unfortunately this can often make the situation worse. Unless you are faced with an emergency that threatens the elder's safety or well-being, it is wise to take some time to gather information and properly assess the situation, prior to taking any action.
As we said earlier, you are now faced with a delicate balancing act, ensuring an elder's health and safety, while maintaining their independence and dignity. Effective communication is key to ensuring that the elder and their loved ones can talk openly about their feelings, needs, and desires moving forward. Once the elder has shared what they would like to see happen, and you have gathered information about available resources, you can now work together on creating a realistic plan of action. It is crucial to allow the elder a sense of influence and control regarding decisions affecting their future.
If the history of your relationship with the elder, has been a difficult one, you may wish to seek assistance from a professional (e.g. care manager, doctor, or therapist) in order to map out a strategy for moving forward. Keep in mind that in order for there to be success moving forward, you will need cooperation and by in from the elder.
When dealing with eldercare, taking a pro-active approach to planning is very important. Now is the time to begin planning for the future. The sooner you begin a dialogue with the elder about their future, the more time you will have to listen to their wants and needs, as well as to take concrete steps to complete legal documents (e.g. medical directives), and research viable resources (e.g. home health agencies, assisted living facilities.)
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, elder abuse may involve one or more of the following:
- Physical Abuse
- Physical abuse is willful infliction of physical pain, injury, or restraint. Signs may include:
- Bruises, marks, or welts around the arms, neck, wrist, and/or ankles
- Burns, often to the palms, soles, and buttocks
- Sprains and dislocations
- Frequent unexplained injuries
- Minimizing the importance of injuries or refusing to discuss them
- Refusing to go to the same emergency department for repeated injuries
It is important to note that these symptoms may also occur as a result of health conditions or medications. If symptoms appear, they should be promptly investigated to determine and remedy the cause.
Psychological abuse is the infliction of mental or emotional anguish, such as humiliation, - intimidation, or threatening. Signs may include:
- Lack of communication or responsiveness
- Unreasonable fear or suspicion
- Disinterest in socializing
- Chronic physical or psychiatric health problems
Sexual abuse is the infliction of non-consensual sexual contact of any kind. Signs may include:
- Unexplained bleeding from the vagina or anus
- Underwear that is torn or bloody
- Bruised breasts
- Venereal diseases
- Vaginal infections
Financial or Material Exploitation
Financial or material exploitation involves improperly using the resources of an older person, without his/her consent, for someone else's benefit. Signs may include:
- Life circumstances that don't match with the size of the elder's estate
- Large withdrawals from bank accounts
- Switching bank accounts
- Unusual ATM activity
- Signatures on checks don't match elder's signature
Neglect is the failure of a caretaker to provide goods or services necessary to avoid physical harm, mental anguish, or mental illness. Neglect may involve abandonment or denial of food or health related services. Signs of neglect may include:
- Sunken eyes
- Weight loss
- Extreme thirst
- Bed sores
- Excessive dirt or odor on body or clothing
- Glasses, hearing aids, dentures, and walking devices in poor condition or missing
- Inappropriate dress
National Center on Elder Abuse
US Administration on Aging
American Psychological Association
For more information on eldercare planning. click on Advanced Care Planning.Our goals are to:
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