Decision Time: What is the Long-term Care Solution?
The Initial Problem:
Dad is really getting forgetful! We had to remind him that we saw him and Mom just last weekend. But maybe it’s not that bad? Even if it’s bad, maybe we can just ride it out…maybe he’ll get better when the weather warms up and the days get a little longer.
The Growing Problem:
Dad’s really out of touch; he accused Mom of stealing his money! Seriously, he knows better than that. I think we’re eventually going to have to do something. He’s having both good and bad days, but I think the good still outweighs the bad—maybe?
The Unavoidable Problem:
Dad grabbed Mom’s shoulders and pushed her against the wall. When he talks, he sounds paranoid—very mistrustful of everyone. He gets so angry with Mom, and one night last week he busted a window, climbed out, ran to the street and flagged down a total stranger’s car! This is no longer safe. What are we going to do?
There are so many caregiving journeys that begin in a manner similar to this. The incidents recounted above actually happened in my father-in-law’s Alzheimer’s journey. Initially, we were hesitant to take action because it wasn’t completely clear if he was just being forgetful or if he had a real problem like dementia. By the time we reached “The Unavoidable Problem” phase, it became obvious something had to be done to protect both Dad and Mom. And here’s where it gets sticky for a lot of caregivers: Exactly what is that vague “something” going to be?
Get a Proper Diagnosis
My husband and I have been involved in the caregiver role twice: in 1997 we provided care for my grandparents, and currently we’re partnering with my mother-in-law to care for my father-in-law. In both cases our first line of defense was to get these folks examined by a physician. A medical exam revealed my grandmother (and more recently my father-in-law) had Alzheimer’s, and my grandfather was found to have an unspecified dementia. In each case, having a definitive diagnosis provided a solid foundation for care as their respective conditions progressed.
Get Educated About the Care Options
The proper diagnosis can determine the current stage of your loved one’s condition, and this will provide direction to help your family select the most appropriate long-term care solution. Your loved one’s doctor can connect you to a medical social worker who can explain the differences between—and the costs of—independent and assisted living communities, nursing homes, home care, home health care, and adult day care services.
Have a Family Meeting to Implement the Plan
Sometimes it’s hard for people to accept their loved one’s diagnosis, even when the situation is knee-deep in evidence that the problem is real. Talking the care options over with immediate family members can be helpful. If Father is diagnosed with dementia, then ideally all the siblings should meet together with Mother to discuss what’s to be done. If there has been tension in the family, using a mediator might be best. A quick internet search can point you to family mediation firms in your local area. In the long run, caregiving is easier if everyone is trying to work together.
Different types of care are recommended by medical professionals based on a number of factors. Whether you’re able to keep your loved one at home or if you need to look into placement in a long-term care community, it’s imperative to build a strong team that is committed to doing what’s best for the one needing care—while also protecting the health and well-being of the primary caregiver. Both patient and caregiver must be seen together as the top priority.