Pass the Pecan Pie: Starting the Caregiver Conversation With Your Family

The holidays are coming, and a similar scenario will play out all over the country as adults return to their childhood homes to celebrate with their parents and grandparents. The baby boom generation is now on the precipice of retirement. Yet, thanks to healthier lifestyles and medical advances, baby boomers are witnessing their family members’ longevity and a variety of age-related physical, cognitive and emotional changes. These tips can help those who want to start an honest conversation with family members about caregiving options.

Finding Clarity

First, it is essential to have clarity to see the situation as it is, meaning not better or worse than it is, but actually as it is. Without this clarity, making a plan to help a family member maintain his or her independence is compromised. Most adults pride themselves in maintaining their independence, and this applies to older adults who fear that any deterioration will lead them to a nursing home. For this reason, parents are often reluctant to talk to their adult children about these issues.

It is important not to jump to conclusions about the condition of a loved one. For example, consider changes in memory or cognition. Forgetting names or losing keys is not dementia. We have all misplaced our keys at one time or another, and the more chronic stress one carries, the more likely it is that memory can be affected. However, not knowing what the keys should be used for is the other extreme.

Not all memory loss is because of Alzheimer’s disease. According to a 2013 report by Alzheimer’s Association, one in nine people 65 and older has Alzheimer’s, so it is critical to seek evaluation before assuming a diagnosis. Sometimes, confusion can be a result of a vitamin deficiency, an infection or other problems that when treated can bring about the return of normal functioning. Geriatricians, neurologists or geriatric psychiatrists are the specialists to see in these cases.

Starting a Conversation

Once a family is ready, the conversation should move forward with the intention of helping those in need of care, allowing them to maintain their independence for as long as possible. If problems already exist with mobility, medication or self-care, the first step can be to reach out to a professional social worker. After that evaluation, the family can review those recommendations and begin to put together a plan.

Each family member may feel differently about what those next steps should be, but it is important to structure a plan that, first and foremost, takes into consideration the care recipients’ wants and needs. The plan can then take into account the family members’ abilities to help as well as the resources and community professionals who can best guide the family.

When adult children step up to help their parents or grandparents, they may find themselves sandwiched between numerous obligations, including their own children’s demands, responsibilities at work and home, and new problems experienced by those receiving care. This kind of burnout can decrease caregivers’ energy and health, increase conflict at home and lessen the quality of care they are giving. Burnout is inevitable if caregivers do not take the time to care for themselves. That may mean hiring a professional nurse or asking another sibling to assist.

The holidays are about to arrive, and family discussions that center on identifying needs for care may be just beginning. With one common goal in mind, families can collaborate to find appropriate care that is suited to their specific situation.

Sylvia Nissenboim
Sylvia Nissenboim has been a counselor and coach for LifeWork Transitions for 25 years. She focuses on coaching and counseling adult children of aging or disabled parents and the parents of disabled children. She also has a private practice focused on providing supportive counseling and strategic coaching in the areas of career, health and family transitions. She runs caregiver groups and widow support groups as well as training professionals on a variety of topics ranging from aging parents to stress reduction techniques.

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