Having the "talk"

Image: Having the "talk"

In this session of Caregiver Tip Tuesday we look at talking with you loved one about the transition from independence to dependence.

The transition from independence to dependence, from self-sufficiency to a need for care, is difficult for everyone involved. Both seniors & their families may have difficulty accepting their changing roles and often fears and concerns consume all involved. Unfortunately, there is no "easy way" to raise the issue. But, while it's a difficult topic for all parties, if the discussion begins when the senior is still relatively healthy and independent, there is more time to make decisions and many more options to choose from and explore.

Starting a conversation may be as easier if it begins with talking about someone you or they know who did not have the foresight to plan ahead. If there seems to be a significant amount of resistance, the issue may need to be approached with the help of other trusted friends, relatives, clergy or involved health care professionals especially if health and/or safety issues become evident.

Keep in mind that a competent person has the right to live at risk if they so desire and as hard it is to witness, it is still their right. No decision for relocation of any kind can or should be made without the consent and knowledge of the person involved, if they are competent.

Keep in mind that there is truly 'no place like home' so if at all possible, your first step should be to explore options that can assist the person to remain in their own home, albeit with help or support. When raising the topic of future planning, it is very important to listen and be supportive –both the caregiver and senior may experience a range of emotions and sensitivity to what everyone might be feeling is very necessary. Discuss any concerns and feelings related to obtaining extra care and/or the possibility of moving.

Be prepared before you raise issues – if possible know the available options and costs. Present your ideas thoughtfully and focus on what you see as the greatest need (for the senior). Involve trusted family members in the process to assist with both emotional support and practical tasks. Start by researching the available services for seniors in their area. You may want to approach it in stages with different options being addressed each time; allowing adequate time for acceptance and trial and error is of paramount importance in getting the person to consent to obtaining care and assistance.

If relocation is the ultimate decision and involves selling the family home and many of the possessions in it, it is important to stress that moving will not erase the memories of their life that are connected to the house or its contents.

Allow the search for, and move to, a new home to be a co-operative process. This will help tremendously with their adjustment to their new surroundings and decrease the possibility of anxiety and depression before and after the move.

As difficult as 'having the talk' may seem, not having it can be worse. Discussing it (if all involved are open to it) can create a sense of relief for both parties. Often we assume things based on our own fears rather than on our actual knowledge. The only way to attempt to deal with concerns and caregiving challenges is with patience, planning and good communication.

Esther Goldstein, B.Sc., B.S.W., RSW is a former acute care hospital social worker, the author of the annual Ontario publication the "Comprehensive Guide to Retirement Living &Long-Term Care®" and administrator of the affiliated national website http://www.senioropolis.com She is a seasoned lecturer and former educator at U of T School of Continuing Studies, sharing her knowledge with professionals, seniors and their families, by giving workshops and lectures at various venues on 'Senior Living Options' and related topics. Esther can be contacted at info@senioropolis.com