During the holiday season, "Over the River and Through the Woods to Grandmother’s House We Go" may well be the theme song for many adult children who have "moved away" from the area where their parents still live. Holidays are the traditional time for far-flung relations to reunite and catch up on all things family.
The concept of a close-knit clan that lived in close proximity and helped care for each other through various stages of health from infancy to old age, is not totally lost, but increasingly, is not the reality of the day.
While driving my mother through Central Texas over the years to visit relatives, I remember her exclaim , when passing through what now amounts to little more than ghost towns,
"Why, that little berg (or variously, wide spot in the road) used to be a thriving community."
It is a fact of modern life that countless young generations leave the small home town for college and jobs, while the parents stay behind.
Understandably then, it is inevitable that adult children began to be concerned for the aging parent’s health and safety when they are unable to drop by frequently to make sure "Mom and Dad" are doing well.
While in some cases neighbors or friends can look in on a senior, ultimately, the responsibility rests with close family.
In some cases, adult childrens’ retirement years coincide with their relative’s need for assistance, and they can move back to "the old home place" to become a caregiver. However, many families are not at such a place in their careers or do not have freedom from family and social obligations.
Respecting the desire of a parent to remain living in their home (the term for this is "aging in place") can be a realistic goal, that is best accomplished with careful planning. While adult children may want to spend time caring for a parent in the parent’s familiar surroundings, it is not always possible to do so without sacrificing productivity at work and absence from home. This situation sometimes comes with a great deal of stress.
Fortunately however, developments in technology and elder care policy have advanced in recent years. This amounts to significant assistance for family members to provide care and indefinetely postpones the retirement institution.
On the technology front, remote monitoring can measure blood pressure and weight gain or loss which can substitute for numerous doctor visits. If medications have not been taken, a computerized monitor will beep, alerting the patient. Then of course there is the emergency call button which can summon help.
Health care policy for seniors has also become better, due to the advent of the huge baby boomer generation’s "coming of age."
Ronnie Friedland, an editor and author, informs that,
"Each elder has a different situation, and home-care services increasingly focus on finding the right balance of services for the individual senior, Helping seniors stay in their own homes for as long as possible, she adds, is the wave of the future for senior care."
Research indicates that private home care is the fastest area of growth within the senior care market. Private home care services, can be purchased either by the seniors themselves or by their adult children. Pat Kelleher, executive director of Home Care Alliance, a home care provider association, tells us that
"More and more states are passing laws that enable elders to receive the same financial reimbursement if they stay in their home or go to a facility. Medicare, which is half paid by the state and half by the federal government, is coming to this point of view, although reimbursement parity is currently determined on the state level.
Also, a new trend in senior care shows that many states are now paying family members other than spouses, who provide the care necessary to keep a senior at home. The pay may often amounts to less than the caregiver would make at work, but every little bit can make a difference, and it does help motivate family members to provide as much care as they can. This funding and the criteria for receiving this funding vary from state to state, area by area."
So when the decision has been made to hire a person outside the family to help care for a loved one, what are the criteria for making this important choice?
Kindness and compassion top the list. Debby Bitticks, producer of the documentary Saving Our Parents, says that these traits "let the person feel safe and understood by the caregiver. It protects a person’s dignity."
The ability to relate to the cultural background of the senior is also important, a trait that often goes missing in the anonymity of retirement institutions.
Closely observed changes in the patient’s physiology could help save a patient from a medical emergency.
Patience is certainly a must as well as punctuality. Dementia patients cannot be left alone even for a few minutes, and running late by a few minutes could compromise the patient’s safety.
Of course every attribute of a perfect caregiver cannot be mentioned here, but certainly insist on the professionalism of the caregiver. Drama-free is important because a caregiver who relates his/her problems on the job may add to the emotional burden of the senior.
Don’t forget to visit with your parent and learn interesting family stories, if this is something you have always intended to do but have put off.