Helping your elderly family members cope with the aging process
Elderly family members go through so much when they get older.
- They fear they are losing their minds because they can’t always remember things.
- Their body begins to break down more and it seems to be betraying them at the most inopportune times.
- Their financial issues become a nightmare that they can’t seem to wake up from.
- They become susceptible to scammers who prey on the elderly because of their poor memory and the fact they can be confused easily.
- And, with so much negative things going on, they become frustrated and angry the majority of the time.
These are not all of the issues, but they are the ones that most of the elderly commonly suffer. The biggest fear elderly family members have is that their family will think less of them and/or they will lose their independence. You can, however, help them get through these times and stay safe, secure, and happy. You are the ticket to your elderly family member’s peace of mind, and yours.
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Don't take over their finances
The elderly want to be independent, after all, they have been around a lot longer than you and they probably have forgotten more than you know. By walking in and taking over every aspect of their finances, you are basically telling them they are too stupid to do it themselves. Instead, try working with them.
- You could perhaps do their finances with them once a week explaining that it is hard enough to do it alone, so you wanted help them get through it.
- Try to work out a budget with them.
- Ask if they would like you to hold onto their checkbook for them (don't take it if they say no).
- Have them give your number to people asking for money or claiming they owe a debt. Put your number where they can see it when they are on the phone.
- Take them shopping and help them put things away so you know what they have and what they need.
- Discuss any options they may have and how it will work (like reverse mortgages, IRA accounts, etc).
- Make sure they know they can turn to you if something or someone confuses them or asks them for money.
- Discuss a Power of Attorney with strict instructions on how they want things done so you can do them if something were to happen.
- Have them name someone(be sure to have it notarized) to speak for them in different situations such as medical decisions if they can't speak for themselves.
Make decisions with them not for them
Decisions about anything become a real nightmare for the elderly. They can't keep track of all the necessary information and they can't remember small details (and sometimes the big ones as well). They get angry, frustrated, and often argumentative so that you won't know they can't do it.
So, don't tell them what they need to do, instead discuss their options and guide them in the right direction. Help them with the facts by writing them down in large print letters so they can read and understand them. Discuss contracts, agreements, forms, medical and insurance issues, etc. out in the open with them so they know you are not trying to do it for them, you are merely trying to help them.
Do your best not to lose patience with them as they struggle through the process of making a decision. Think how you would feel if you had to take one of your kids to the doctor and suddenly you can't decide what pants to wear, or which purse to take, what shoes to put on, which doctor to go to, or even which kid needs to go.
Then, for whipped cream on the top, your son/daughter is sitting there telling you that "of course you know all that because they set it all up for you", and "Why can't you do anything anymore????????" And, "oh, never mind, just come on so we can get this over with!"
Anybody for a large dollop of hurt, embarrassment and frustration? Because there it is! This happens more often than you might think. Would you be hurt by those words? Think before you speak to the elderly. They might have forgotten some things, but they still have feelings.
Discuss hard decisions with them and other family members
The hardest decisions that must be made by the elderly are medical and final arrangements. No one wants to discuss those things; but you will need to know what they prefer if the time should come. You can't ask an unconscious or comatose person if they want to be revived if their heart should stop, can you? But the elderly will get angry and begin to believe you are after their money or something because you want legal documents written up.
The best way to handle this is to get together with family and the elderly (even close friends can help) and openly discuss your choices and options. Have the remainder of the group do the same. Discuss the need for a Living Will; someone to handle decision making; Final Resting Arrangements and choices; Medical preferences; Power of Attorney for all kinds of necessary decision making; and a final Will. Not just with the elderly, but you (all of you) should have the same thing in place and family should know your preferences. Get it out now, and at the same time, help the elder person to make their choices.
Don't be angry if they don't chose you to handle their affairs. Just ask that everyone gets a copy of all legal documents so the elderly person's affairs are well known. That way if Uncle George is to handle the estate, and he decides to sell it for a profit, everyone in the family will know that the elderly person didn't want that---and they will have the legal proof to show it.
Just an FYI, by discussing your choices, you let your family know what you would want; and you let the elderly person know you are not singling them out. They will feel better about making those tough decisions that way, and you will have those decisions already made for when you need them.
Think about this example
You are in a fancy restaurant and your tummy begins to make funny noises. You reach for a glass of water to ease the noise and your hand slips. The water goes all over the table and drips onto the laps of your companions. You are horrified as people race to crowd around the table and, seemingly, to glare at you (though they are actually there to help clean up the mess). Then, just for the fun of it, your body releases loud smelly gas for the crowd to enjoy while they glare. You want to climb under the table and hide. But wait, there's more, as you try to rise to go to the bathroom to regain your composure, you knock your cane down and fall trying to retrieve it--and you can't get up without help. Would you be embarrassed?
The elderly feel betrayed by their own body
The older a body gets, the weaker the muscles become. That leads to embarrassing moments like gas, belching, bowel issues, urine issues, dropping food on oneself, tripping, falling, and being unable to keep up with the rest of the crew.
When you are with an elderly person, slow down. Let them move at their own pace and wait for them. Endure the embarrassing moments with kindness and understanding. And don't make a fuss when things go wrong. The best thing to do is to get the issue taken care of quickly and without complaining to the person about how you are now late, or perhaps other things that might come up. Remember, they are already embarrassed, don't add to it.
Don't do it alone
Try to get family and friends to help. You will cause yourself undo stress and exhaustion if you try to do it all by yourself. See if others can bring the elderly to their doctor appointments, or to get their hair cut. Ask for help getting them to family events. Ask for help taking care of them. Ask for help with the little things. Then the bigger things will come a lot easier. Oh yeah, when the family argues that they are busy and can't, ask them how they would feel if they can't do things and no one came to help. It's really not that hard, just schedule it ahead of time. The earlier things are worked out, the easier it is to get help.
A quick reference to help you care for your elderly family member
- · The elderly don’t want to get old and are angry, frustrated, and embarrassed that their body and mind aren’t what they used to be.
- · Don’t antagonize them, work with them. Let them know that you have their best interests in mind. Explain the consequences of all actions before a decision for something is made and involve them in the decision making process.
- · Don’t push them aside, let them participate. Don’t be the parent, be the helpful child. And when that difficult decision necessity arrives, no matter how disagreeable it is, make the decision they wanted, not the one you wanted.
- · Help them with their financial situations (don’t take over on them). Make sure they know what you are paying with their money and why.
- Try getting them an animal companion for comfort when you can't be there.
- · Make sure they have the freedom to spend if they chose to but do your best to limit what they spend. Help them avoid scams by explaining the consequences and offering to take any calls that might come from someone wanting money. (Also, protect their computer if they have one so that viruses and the like don't compromise their personal information.)
- · Make sure they know what you are doing, why you are doing it, and how it affects them.
- · Never degrade them or tell them they can’t do something.
- · Never take their money from them or pull their freedom unless it is absolutely necessary (in other words, life or death for them).
- · Try to find alternatives before you make the big jump to taking over.
- · Finally, try to put yourself in their place. If you had memory failure, physical restrictions, financial questions, scammers after you, confusion about things, and a lack of independence, how would you feel when that young whipersnapper strides in and takes over?
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© 2012 Cheryl Simonds
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