Caring for Our Seniors: Tips and Strategies to Help Our Aging Loved Ones
By Mary Buss, M.D., Kansas City Internal Medicine
Life brings many changes throughout the years. I am continually amazed at the strength and stamina my elderly patients have. It is hard to reconcile why challenges must be endured during the last few years of life. This time of life should be carefree and simple, but unfortunately this is often not the case.
Physical problems and memory impairment frequently make it impractical for our elderly family members and friends to continue caring for themselves. This is when caregivers step in to help. I wish I had a formula to make caring for an aging relative straightforward, but I don’t.
My parents are fortunate to be active and healthy and I joke that I am training them for what their futures may hold. I know it isn’t that simple, but I can try. Below are some tips that I hope help make the journey for you or a family member a little less stressful.
Some elderly people do have to move from their homes where they have lived for several decades to retirement facilities. By opening the discussion about this topic years before, your parents can voice where they would like to live, if and when that time comes.
Similarly, discussions about Advanced Directives and end-of-life wishes should be discussed years ahead of time. These conversations can be difficult, but are of utmost important to guide future decision making.
Keep up with your relatives and friends. Who are their doctors? What do they see them for? Where do they do their banking? It is difficult to balance being involved without being intrusive, but it can be done in a loving fashion.
Keep Your Own Records
This is necessary for good medical care. Get official copies of your loved one’s medical records. Bring them with you anytime you see a new physician. At a minimum, keep a list of all medical problems, past surgeries, allergies, and medications with you at all times.
This is especially important when transferring from one medical facility to another. By keeping your own records, you can help decrease medication mistakes.
If you have questions about your relative’s health or medications, ASK! If you notice issues that are not being addressed, bring them up to your physician. If you have insights into recent changes, behaviors, or problems, notify the health care providers. If your loved one is unable to speak for themselves, be their voice! Listen to that “little voice” inside your head and take action when it urges you.
Divide and Conquer
If one person in the family is good at finances, put them in charge of paying the bills. If another one is a nurse, put them in charge of the doctor visits.
Don’t put all tasks on one person. If you are an only child or relative, ask someone for help. Part of the life cycle is taking turns taking care for each other, and if you need help, ask.
Take Advantage of Services
Don’t be afraid to ask a social worker, a friend from church, a neighbor, or a professional organization (such as the Alzheimer’s Association) for help. You don’t have to do it all yourself.
What are your loved one’s main goals? Is it staying in their own home? Is it treating pain or another bothersome symptom? Is it keeping someone as happy and comfortable as possible? Is it living to a certain birthday? It is easy to get caught up in the minutia of daily care and forget what is really pertinent. It’s okay to slow down for a few minutes, take a deep breath, and focus on what is really important.
It is all too common that the one providing the most care to a patient gets the brunt of all frustrations. An elderly parent may berate and belittle the child who is helping them the most. My best theory is that the relationship with that caregiver has become comfortable and safe. It’s the only place a person feels like they can express their angst. This anger is often misdirected.
While I don’t believe one should be blatantly abused, letting these criticisms go is important. This is especially important if your loved one’s memory is impaired. Their judgment and insight into the current situation may be lacking, along with their reasoning skills. Allow their criticisms to be heard, but try not to fixate on them. This is definitely easier to say than to do. Having a good support system for yourself is needed to cope with these situations.
While we want results and changes immediately, time is often the best healer. Gaining strength and adjusting to changes takes time. Some things in life we just can’t rush.
Be Thankful and Laugh
Be thankful for the time you have together, even if you have to spend it in waiting rooms and hospitals. Be thankful for what you have. Take some trips down memory lane together, and don’t forget to laugh! A sense of humor can help you through stressful times and help keep things in perspective.
These few ideas are only meant to be a brief overview of all it takes to be a caregiver for a loved one. It can be a time consuming and stressful job, but with some support and patience, it can also be rewarding, memorable, and a time you would not trade for anything.
Committed to Outstanding Patient Care
I am in awe of the strength my elderly patients and their loved ones show on a daily basis. My goal, and Kansas City Internal Medicine’s goal, is to be a center for comprehensive geriatric care, serving you with the highest quality of medicine possible.
Our company slogan, EXPERIENCE. BETTER CARE., gives two thoughts, one that you will “Experience Better Care”, and two, that you will find experienced staff and physicians and receive better care. To learn more or to make an appointment, please call 816-525-4400.