How to recognize when a loved one needs home care

November 22nd, 2017

By: Sharon Roth Maguire, MS, RN, GNP-BC Chief Clinical Quality Officer, BrightStar Care

The determination of the need for in-home care is a decision that more adult children will face as aging parents live longer. Members of the “sandwich” generation are caught between obligations for work and their own children, as well as caring for their aging parents. It can be especially stressful if their parents live in a different city or state.

A member of my extended family faced this sort of situation. This person is an intelligent man who works in healthcare, but when his mother had some health issues and needed in-home care, he didn’t know where to begin. He didn’t know what his options were, what Medicare would cover and wouldn’t, or what he should do next. Being suddenly thrust into making decisions about something with which you are not familiar can be overwhelming.

While seeking home health care can be stressful, it doesn’t have to be something you face alone. The following are some of the most important items your family should consider when a loved one needs extra care.

Recognize the signs of physical or mental issues

So often, families don’t recognize a loved one needs help until there’s a catastrophic event, such as a heart attack, stroke, or some other serious injury or condition. But if you know what to watch for, there may be signs before an event occurs.

Maybe Mom or Dad is less engaged with friends or family than they have been in the past. This could be a sign of depression if the loved one has pulled back suddenly after being active and involved in the past.

When you visit Mom or Dad in their home, look at the environment. Is the house not as tidy as it used to be? Is the food in the refrigerator spoiled? These could be signs that your loved one may not physically be able to take care of their household responsibilities, or they may be forgetting to handle them.

Pay attention to other signs. Maybe your loved one has suddenly lost a lot of weight. Maybe you’re frequently getting calls about them having to go to the hospital. This can be harder to notice if you live in a different city or state, but it’s important to pay attention when you can.

Start the conversation about home care

Many aspects of this process can be challenging, but perhaps the hardest part is finding a way to talk to your loved one about your concerns. Your loved one probably will want to maintain their sense of independence for as long as possible — and maybe even beyond that point.

The best approach is to have the conversation before an emergency happens. We suggest that you call or visit your loved one periodically and bring up the topic of their health and their needs at home, well in advance of a crisis.

Set the stage with a rhetorical question. Imply that you were reflecting on this for some unrelated reason, and ask what your loved one would think if it happened to them. Try something like: “You know, Mom, a friend of mine just recently set up home care for their mom because she fell. If that were to ever happen to you, what would you want us to do?”

These conversations can’t take place in one sitting. It will take time. And through these conversations, little by little, you can start to broach the subject until your loved one feels comfortable talking about more difficult topics, like:

  • “If you ever did need care, Dad, would you prefer in-home care or residential care?”
  • “Are you OK with getting help from another person if I’m not here to take care of you, even though I would like to be?”
  • “Would you be OK with someone coming into your home? If you are, what would that look like? A few times a week? Daily? Living with you?”
  • “Would you be OK with a female caregiver, or would you prefer a male caregiver?”

Mom or Dad may shut these questions down with statements like, “I’m never going to need that. Don’t you ever do that!” Just be patient, and continue to find ways to gently ease into the conversation, letting them know it is your love and concern for them that is guiding these questions, as well as your respect for honoring their preferences.
 
Free Resource: Home Care Planning Guide

Legal and financial decisions

Adult children often don’t realize that they may need legal documentation in place if they ever need to make medical or financial decisions on behalf of an elderly parent. Do you know whether your loved one has the following?

  • Durable power of attorney for finance
  • Durable power of attorney for healthcare
  • Living will

Trying to find these important documents can lead to tough conversations or arguments. Find a way to bring it up casually. Try something like this: “I just heard a seminar about how important it is to have a living will. Do you have one, Dad? Maybe we could go do it together.” Or you could say, “I was thinking, Mom, that I’m going to have to find a place to store my living will. I might see if I can get a safety deposit box at my bank. What do you think? Where do you keep yours?”

Know when it’s time to get help

Family members may feel obligated to “keep care in the family.” But they often realize quickly that it’s a complicated process to keep their own lives on track and provide the kind of care their loved one needs. It’s like the warning on airplanes to put on your own oxygen mask before you help someone else with theirs. A caregiver who feels overwhelmed or unable to cope is in no position to help their loved one.

The stress of managing all these responsibilities can be hard on families. Family caregivers can feel resentful for having to take on this responsibility, and elderly parents may feel like they’re a burden. That can poison the loving relationship you once had. That’s not what life should be about.

An in-home care provider can help relieve some of that responsibility. It may seem at first like no one can take care of your loved one like you can. Only you know their life story and their needs. Getting help with that burden can let you be the kind of family member you want to be, rather than feeling overwhelmed. Call 866-618-7827 or contact a BrightStar Care® home care agency near you to find out how we can help with this process.