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  • Writer's pictureMeg Pemberton

When You Need Help to Care for Your Parents

Whether it happens suddenly or over a period of time, many of us preparing for our retirement years will find ourselves in this predicament. A confused Dad places a plastic bowl in the oven to heat up a meal or you’re asking for another day off to ferry your Mom to multiple medical appointments. The realization hits like a punch in the gut; your gut. You thought you could do this. All of this. Recognizing you are struggling and need help caring for your parents comes with many emotions, fear, guilt, anger, sadness, a sense of failure, or perhaps relief. What happens next when you realize you need help to care for your parents?

The Visceral Response

For me, even as a nurse, my initial response was to soldier on, I could do this. My family could do this. It was what my parents wanted. However, I truly feared what was coming. Admittedly there was a trace of anger. Twice a day dressing changes for months became onerous. Dealing with Mom’s denial regarding my Dad’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease was stressful; involving a lot of late night calls and after work visits. The guilt was overwhelming. Guilt over spending less time with my husband and daughters. Guilt because they were helping my parents when they should not have had to. Guilt that I wasn’t doing enough for my parents.

When to “Throw In the Towel”

Every eldercare journey is different. The pace is largely determined by the increasing difficulty your elder parents face. Adult children as caregivers will respond differently. Our journeys may be similar but each is unique. When you realize you need help to care for your parents you may struggle as I did with “throwing in the towel” and asking for help. My advice to you is to NOT resist the urge to ask for help. Getting help may provide you much needed rest, less stress, and peace. Here are a few signs that it’s time to “throw in the towel.”

Ignoring your self-care needs

o Lack of sleep

o Poor eating habits

o Little or no exercise

o Zero “me time”

Spending less quality time with your immediate family

o Forgetting important family milestones

o Missing family events

Not staying in touch with or spending time with friends

Missing too many days at work

If you recognize any of these signs it may in fact be past time to throw in that towel. I was living almost all of the signs noted. I learned what I had long suspected. No one can truly multitask effectively. I gave in and threw in the biggest towel I could find!

Finding the Resource that Fits Best

In a prior blog post I shared some information regarding some resources (click here). Identifying which resource to use will depend on your unique situation. See below for two resources and their roles.

Geriatric Care Managers (GCM) are ideal for families trying to care for their elderly parents from a distance. GCMs can provide: (Insert link to NIH)

o Make home visits and suggest needed services

o Assist with making short- and long-term plans

o Evaluate in-home care needs

o Coordinate medical services

o Evaluate other living arrangements

Certified Senior Advisors (CSA) are ideal for helping adult children and seniors identify appropriate resources within their community. This includes identifying the best options and solutions intended to improve their lives. (insert link to SCSA) Services include:

o Recommendations and referrals to local resources (e.g.: Home Care Agencies, Assisted Living)

o Home assessments for safety and evaluation of needs

o Assistance with financial planning

o Assistance with Medicare and Medicaid

o Assistance with identifying applicable Veteran’s benefits

Many of the services provided by GCMs and CSAs overlap; each providing to some degree the same services noted. The differences between the two may be solely their education and level of certification. GCMs may be found in a variety of facilities providing ombudsman type services for residents. CSAs may be found in a variety of agencies (e.g.: non-medical home health agencies). Many financial planners are also CSAs. Both GCMs and CSAs may provide consultative services in the effort to support seniors and their families.

Decisions, Decisions…

Once you’ve recognized the need for assistance it’s time to do some research. Time, distance, money, and the most obvious needs of your parents will dictate where to look first. If your journey is just beginning with a new diagnosis of dementia, your parent’s primary care physician can point you in the right direction. However, reaching out to your local Alzheimer’s Association Chapter or Area Agency on Aging are good places to start. If your parent is in need of companion or personal care, a GCM or CSA can help you identify the best fit be it in home or an assisted living situation. The options are many and they are varied both in level of service and cost. Please see my growing list of resources (click here).

We chose a GCM to help us navigate the world of assisted living and Medicaid (for Dad’s eventual move to skilled care). She was amazing. We could not have managed as well as we did without her. She is in part how I ended up becoming a CSA.

So here is where I must share that this blog is not sponsored by anyone and I am in no way indicating a preference for one resource versus another. Though I am available for consultation I continue to refer to GCMs and financial planners in my area. Your eldercare journey is unique to you and your parents. There is no single, perfect resource for each journey. When you need help to care for your parents, you’ll need to do what’s best for you and them. Just remember, it’s okay to ask for help.


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