Elder care is a dynamic process because circumstances, finances and the health of an older adult can change rapidly. The following 5-step model will help you make informed decisions and set a plan in motion right away.
Identifying a need or change in circumstances. Aging is a normal process that includes changes in physical and cognitive functions. Most older adults learn how to compensate for these changes and continue to thrive. However, there are elder-related illnesses that can further exacerbate normal changes in functioning. Often, people assume that changes that are occurring are “just old age,” but it’s important to differentiate the normal, tolerable effects of aging from a potentially debilitating illness or condition. As you begin to notice small changes in the behaviors, routines and overall physical and cognitive abilities of your loved one, you can start to educate yourself on the possible medical, psychosocial or environmental causes.
Educating yourself. A medical crisis is usually the trigger that causes older adults and families to begin the educational process about such things as illness, injury, medications, health risks, safety and healthy lifestyle changes. You should seek information from a variety of different sources including healthcare professionals, your social network and people that have experienced a similar situation. Deciding how to proceed with a medical procedure or medication regimen is one part of this education, but just as important is how is the older adult and his/her support system can make necessary changes to help ensure the balance of a safe environment and positive life experience. We encourage you to be open to hearing a variety of different opinions and options, and we are happy to share some of these with you in a confidential personal conversation. Link this Understanding the continuum of choices, and the pros and cons of each choice, will help you determine what options will work best for your situation.
Seeking out options that meet individual preferences. We advocate for our clients to make decisions based on their own personal values and lifestyle. Most situations do not have only one course of action. We encourage older adults and their families to have conversations about care decisions, safety versus personal choices, family dynamics, financial situations, and end of life decisions. Discussions should be open and should allow everyone involved to share thoughts and continue without judgment. These can be uncomfortable discussions to initiate, but will help guide decision-making when a crisis occurs. We are all unique and deserve to make decisions that support our personal approach to life.
Implementing your plan. We highly recommend having a detailed written plan in place. Once an older adult and his/her support system have agreed on this plan, including lifestyle, safety and/or healthcare approaches, it is time for each person to have a role in the implementation. An adult child who lives out of the area might, for instance, take on the role of researching or conducting regular phone check-ins with the parent or older adult. An adult child living close by might be in charge of finding a contractor to modify the house, and overseeing that project. Make sure everyone in the support system is a part of the plan in a way that provides support to the overall relationships, helps achieve the goals, and is realistic to accomplish.
Evaluating the plan. After a month or so, the older adult and support system should come back together and evaluate how the plan is working. Be honest. Don’t be afraid to make modifications as long as they help support the original intent or additional agreements that have been made. Try to talk openly to the group. It is best not to have side conversations about what has worked, who is doing what pieces, or what has not worked. Remember that elder care is dynamic, so the plan will need to be flexible and will change over time.
By following these guidelines, you and your family will set yourselves up for a smoother, more enjoyable and collaborative experience that everyone can feel good about. We can help you assess your options as a team.