When and How to Help?

Helping and caring for an aging family member can be a daunting task. There is a lot of information available -- sometimes too much. Finding care options and resources is, in some ways, the easy part. The true difficulty can come when determining when and how to intervene. There really is no right or wrong answer for assisting an aging family member. Every situation is unique and requires a unique solution. But here are a few thoughts to help guide you.

There is a delicate balance between providing too little and too much help. It is often hard to walk that line. One of the main principles to keep in mind is that of autonomy. One research study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family in 1996 showed that older people respond positively to assistance initially but too much support “may increase distress by inducing dependence and eroding autonomy”.

Ideally, you will begin conversations with your loved one long before help is really needed. Discuss some hypothetical situations and determine what their desires might be “IF” they were to need assistance. The majority will express a desire to remain at home and independent. Options abound for those who want to stay in their own homes and are growing all the time. However, during the hypothetical discussion you might suggest some other alternatives and perhaps even visit some local retirement communities to get an understanding of what appeals to your loved one most.

One of the chief fears seniors have about making such a move is that they will lose their independence. On the other hand, the right amount of support actually increases independence, which is always the goal. Very often residents at Brookdale communities say they wish they had made the move sooner because they have found a new lease on life. Many feel good about relieving the burden of worry for their adult children or caregivers, which is a good motivator. Shifting the dependence from their children to the support that a community offers can be a great relief for the senior and the caregiver alike.

The big question is how to determine when it is time to make a move. According to what we know from research, one of the biggest red flags for a senior is that of social isolation. If your parent or loved one winds up in this situation, intervene quickly as social isolation can lead to rapid mental and physical decline. 

Open Communication

You may notice changes before the senior does. Sorting out what is true danger and what is just us worrying is important. When addressing your concerns, try asking questions rather than making statements. Most likely your loved one knows what is necessary. The admission is what brings about apprehension and fear. You can help them to come to the conclusion that help is needed by being patient and supportive. It is, however, an unfortunate fact of life that it sometimes takes a crisis before an older person will agree to make a move or accept more help.

Sometimes in a crisis situation you may find yourself at odds with your loved one. It is not uncommon for a senior to have a different view of their situation than you do, which may include an inaccurate assessment of their abilities. If your loved one's safety is at risk it might be necessary to take charge, at least temporarily, and put interventions into place that ensure the well-being of your loved one. Remain loving, reassuring and positive throughout the crisis and then back away as things level off and return to normal or the “new normal”.

The experience of helping an aging parent is an emotional one. In the mix you will find frustration, anger, loss, worry, fear and the ever present guilt. One word of advice is to expunge guilt from your emotional repertoire, it serves no positive purpose. You are most likely doing this for the first time and will do the best you can.

Helpful Advice

Working with an objective person is sometimes needed. A professional who does not have emotional ties can be very helpful. At Brookdale we are here to listen, understand and mutually agree. Contact a Brookdale national senior living advisor for assistance.