Coping with the Stresses of Elder Care: Doctor visits and Time Out
By Dina Bennett on February 07, 2012
In my previous post on Speaking Up For Yourself, I set out some tips for those caring for an aging parent, on how to start speaking up for what you need and what you want. For me, as my mother aged with dementia, speaking up was an essential skill for regaining some control over my universe. I often think back to that time (my mother passed away a year and a half ago), on what I could have done differently or better. Here are some things related to speaking up that I found invaluable.
Medical Matters, including doctor visits, ER and other hospitalizations
It's important for someone to accompany an elderly person to doctor appointments. It's even more important for that person to be prepared to go into details with the doctor. And it's most important to write everything down. Medical matters with regard to elderly parents are always complicated, even without the stress of seeing your mother or father strained, in pain, confused. Typically there are multiple issues to consider, various treatment options, a variety of drugs influencing each other. Physicians have less and less time, and sometimes too little patience, with geriatric cases. I've found this can be true even with doctors who claim a specialty in geriatrics.
I began approaching doctor visits as follows. I quickly found that I was more relaxed and in control than if I just sat there hoping the doctor would be helpful.
What do I want? to understand the medical matter confronting my mother.
What do I need? for the doctor(s) to explain the matter to me clearly and completely.
How do I get this? I practiced a little script until I could say it nonjudgmentally. For example:
"Doctor, I am my mother's principle caregiver. I want to be able to make the right decisions and to do that I have to understand the medical issues confronting us. Could I ask you to explain the situation to me as simply and thoroughly as you can, so that I can understand it? And please bear with me if I need to ask some questions. If this isn't a good time to go into the detail I need from you, can we set a time right now when we can talk about this?"
Family matters--time for yourself
One of the recurring themes in caring for elderly parents is how it encroaches on your time and energy for other things. You're working, you're raising a family, you're keeping your spouse happy, AND you're now responsible for all sorts of things related to your parent's well-being. If you don't speak up for your needs you'll eventually explode and one of the above will suffer. Here's how I break this down into the fundamentals:
What do Iwant? Not to be responsible to anyone for anything for a period of time (a night, a few hours, whatever works)
What do Ineed? For someone reliable to take over my chores for that particular period of time. This could be a sibling, a spouse, a friend.
How do I get this? Try this out: "Honey, I want to be able to take care of everyone and keep up with all my responsibilties as well as I possibly can. You know that's really important to me and I take it seriously. Right now, though, I'm truly exhausted. I need a break. Could you (take care of the kids for the next few nights) (manage dinner for me this week) (take over the laundry this weekend)? If I just don't have to think about or be responsible for this it'll help me more than you can imagine!"
Ok, ok, maybe you won't call your partner "honey" but you get the idea!
Have you encountered any situations where these ideas could help?