£2bn has been cut from the nation’s social care budgets over the last ten years at the same time as the numbers of people needing support has soared, along with the cost of residential care. This has put more and more families on the “front line” of caring for elderly relatives.
“One of the biggest adaptations many of us have to make in life,” says Deborah Stone, MD of www.myageingparent.com, is realizing that it’s now our role to look after our parents, rather than seeing them as the source of support and advice. It’s a huge shift and not all of us are prepared. Equally, and not unreasonably, not all parents are willing to have their offspring telling them what to do. Often the ‘shift’ happens quite suddenly, after a fall or illness perhaps, giving us little time to adapt. Equally, there can be serious conflict within a family when several siblings are involved in caring for a parent. It really can be like a minefield.”
Being a carer for an older parent or relative is often tricky for families to negotiate. On top of the emotional stress that this can cause for everyone, there may be issues of cost, differences in opinion between family members, and even unresolved family issues, all of which can muddy the waters.
“No one wants to make matters worse for their elderly loved ones,” says Deborah, “ so it’s obviously a time to put aside differences and all pull together to reduce anxiety. We’ve identified five key issues that families may face, and offer some tips on how to resolve them: an essential “five point care plan” to cope with being your parent’s carer.”
1 What can you do when your parent resists support?
It is often difficult for an elderly parent to accept that they need help and support. They will fear the loss of their independence and they may also nurture real concerns about being “put into a home”. It’s essential that the whole family discusses the issue together before broaching the subject, so you can present a united front. Do not press gang your older relative into anything. It can be a slow and frustrating process, but be patient and listen to their concerns. This means planning ahead and agreeing on some options to present. Having a range of care options to discuss may allay their natural fears and means they feel more involved in the decision making process and less anxious. A family meeting may also be a good time to consider organising a care assessment and Legal Power of Attorney (LPA).
2 What can you do when siblings disagree about care needs and options?
Long-standing family arguments, resentments and old patterns of behaviour can interfere with rational thinking. If siblings can’t agree about how much care a parent needs, or about whether the parent needs care at all, then it’s time to seek expert guidance from outside the family. This could be done via the parent’s GP surgery, and you could ask social services to organise a care assessment at your parent’s home.
3 What can you do when siblings don’t share the load equally?
Another common problem is when one sibling becomes the main caregiver, often a daughter, or the sibling who lives closest to their parents. Not sharing the load can cause great resentment amongst siblings providing the care, as well as guilt amongst those that live too far away or have work commitments.Pecking orders and old habits die hard within families, but if siblings aren’t helping, then the main caregiver must insist on help. We all make the mistake of presuming that everyone sees and understands the problem as we do, but sometimes you have to just spell it out and ask for specific help. Even if they don’t live nearby, there are plenty of things they can do, such as paying bills, researching care options etc. Importantly, they could have your parent to stay for short periods, so that you get some much-needed respite. If family disputes are too complicated, then maybe it’s time to organise some extra home care for your parent, so that you are not shouldering all the work.
4 What can you do when you’re a member of ‘the sandwich generation’?
People (usually women) often find themselves juggling the needs of ageing parents and teenage or young adult children. Sometimes, the carer has grandchildren to care for as well, making them part of the “club sandwich generation”.This is often the cause of stress, arguments, resentment and fatigue. The most important thing to remember in this situation is that you can only do your best. If that means getting help with the care of your elderly parent from external agencies and siblings, then that is what you must try to do. Teenage and adult children should also be encouraged to become more involved. They can visit their grandparents, help with household chores and gardening, and even help to get them online.It’s important not to get so focused on your elderly parents’ needs that you forget to look after yourself and pay less attention to your partner, children and friends. Try to schedule time out and periods of respite.
5 What can you do when family members live some distance away?
It’s not uncommon for siblings to live at opposite ends of the country, or even different countries and they will inevitably lead busy lives with families of their own. Older people generally expect to be cared for as they cared for their own parents and can suffer huge disappointment when this turns out to be impossible. And in turn, siblings often endure feelings of guilt. Talking about care options within the family as early as possible will help create a ‘to-do’ list, with actions that can be shared. This might include: talking to the GP and social services; making the home safer with the help of an occupational therapy expert; installing assistive technology; such as personal alarms; organising a befriending service; day care visits and using voluntary community transport options to avoid isolation.
“With extending life expectancies and increasing pressures on older people to remain in their own home for as long as possible, this situation is not going to get any less prevalent,” says Deborah Stone, “and anyone with parents who are currently fit and well should really start doing their research and opening up conversations about the future. You will usually find that most older people recognise that they are not immortal – and probably had to fulfill caring roles of their own in the past. So broaching the subjects sensitively and respectfully is always going to be the way forward.”
The full guide can be found on HERE