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Posted: September 03, 2007

Practical Caregiving

Near or Far, Knowing a Loved One's Needs is Critical

Whether you're a local or long-distance caregiver, not knowing how to best provide care for your loved one can leave you at loose ends, unhappy and unwilling to let the status quo remain.
But what, exactly, to do?
That's the dilemma faced by Linda in Madison, Wisconsin, whose grandfather may be endangering himself when left alone, and for Pat in Scottsdale, Arizona, whose mother lives states away from her and doesn't present a clear picture of her health and care for Pat to deal with. Both contacted me through email, asking for advice, so let's see their stories and find out if I can help.
Dear Jean:
Do you have any suggestions for us? Mom and Dad take care of my grandfather in his home. I really think that Grandpa needs something to do to feel useful. He has forgotten how to do most everything. Right now he is fascinated with building fires in the fireplace -- which is totally dangerous -- and other dangerous things. I think Dad needs to consider a nursing home because they both work and Grandpa's left alone most of the time. I just would like to see him able to do something other than watch TV. He was such an active man. I'd love any suggestions you have.
Linda A., Madison, Wisconsin
Dear Linda:
If your grandfather is doing dangerous things, then he definitely should not be left alone. And that needs to be resolved right away. Someone needs to do something to keep him from burning the house down, and from hurting himself or others.

Mom started a fire in the kitchen by turning on the stove -- and we were all sitting in the living room. My son discovered the fire, and we were able to put it out before we had a big problem. But if Mom had been alone, I hate to think of what would have happened.

Split seconds can make a difference, so please tell your parents to make sure that doesn't happen to your grandfather. If he does need to be in a nursing home, tell them he would be happier because he would not be alone all the time. But the personal danger and nursing home questions are basically separate; don't just tie them together -- you need to resolve each one.

Has your grandfather had a thorough physical exam recently? There may be problems developing that none of you are aware of. Be sure to ask the doctor about depression. Believe me; I would be depressed if I sat alone all day every day. Is there any way he can get out and socialize? Is there an adult daycare center nearby?
Since you are your father's daughter, you might find that he doesn't want to listen to you as much as he would listen to someone else. Is there someone your father can talk to about the situation -- a doctor, a hospital social worker, a minister, or someone else?
You are right that your grandfather needs to feel useful. One thing an elderly person finds is that they are not needed by anyone. Just to keep his mind fresh, you could think of some topic and call him for his advice. Your father could ask his advice. The topic isn't important; the interaction is important. Your father and mother could take him out to eat and tell him they needed his company for a few hours. There are all sorts of ways to make a person feel needed and useful.
Good luck and let me know if I can help in any other way.
Dear Jean: 

My mom lives in Arkansas, and from the phone calls I am getting from her, I believe she is mentally going downhill faster than anyone realizes.

She is only 69, but apparently spends many days in bed and her house is a disaster. I am very concerned. The last time I visited her, she wouldn’t let me help her. I live in Arizona and have not been back there for two years. Her health is not good, and she has trouble healing whenever she gets cut, or suffers anything else.

She retired from working a few months ago and has nothing but problems with Social Security. I don’t think she is getting the proper amount of money. I don’t know what to do. I just want to go sell the house and junk, move her out here with family and find a small place for her to live in so I can make sure she is OK. She does not want to move and the only way I can see to get her here is to go through the courts. I don’t know if that is a good idea or not.

Where do I start?

Pat L., Scottsdale, Arizona

Dear Pat:

It sounds like you have legitimate reasons to be concerned. The first thing you need to do is get a better picture of what exactly is going on. If you can’t visit her right now, is there a trusted neighbor or an old friend who might be able to drop in on her? You might even call her church, if you can't find anyone yourself. Please have someone go over there (unannounced) and evaluate the situation. They wouldn't be able to evaluate her mental state, but they could look at her house. They might even be able to tell if she is confused.

Here are some of the things you need to know: Is if she is taking her medications correctly? Is she eating when she should and eating enough? Has she been to a doctor in the last few months? A thorough physical exam would be important to learn what's happening medically with your mother. Do you know her doctor's name? You might call there and ask the nurse for advice. They can't talk to you about your mother's health without her permission, but they could at least guide you in ways to set up a physical exam for her.

Another area you want to watch for is someone taking advantage of your mother. Someone might be taking her money, or other things. Sadly, senior fraud is a growing area of concern.

After you have a better picture of the state of your mother, then you can consider other options. If her mind isn't as sharp as it used to be, you are probably getting a distorted picture of things when you speak with her. Sometimes it can be worse and sometimes better. Quite often a doctor can help "persuade" an elderly person to move without having to use the legal system.

I hope you can get someone into your mother's house soon. If it is as bad as it sounds, she needs help immediately. If it isn't, you need to know so you can relax. Please let me know what you find out.

© 2007 Pederson Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Commercial use, redistribution or other forms of reuse of this information is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission of Pederson Publishing.

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