Aging Parents in Crisis: What Can Be Done from Afar
A call came recently while I was out of the country on vacation. I barely got cell reception, so my phone’s ringing caught me by surprise...
It was my mom in Pennsylvania. She tells me that she has some difficult news, that my father’s been admitted to the hospital with serious delusions and she’s concerned for their future.
I hold my breath.
How could this be? I had just seen my father on one of my annual visits to my hometown only a month prior, and he seemed like he was better than he’d been in years.
My first thought is of canceling my remaining day of vacation and hopping on a plane. But I quickly realize the absurdity of the idea. Aside from the emotional comfort of being there in person, there’s not much else that can be gained from that decision. As much as it pains me, I can’t easily uproot my life and plunk it down 2,000 miles away when I also have a husband, son, and my work to consider.
Instead, I manage things from afar. I return from vacation and, after a bit of recovery from a nasty bug that I’d picked during my trip, I go into full detective mode.
Confirming the Situation
I call my mother once again and get the full story. I ask about her needs, her financial and insurance status, and get the latest update on my dad’s condition. I take mental notes and call my cousin soon after to confirm these things.
It’s vital to get the input of parents’ other close friends and family members whenever emergencies arise. What parents say on the phone doesn’t always line up with the truth. It’s important to remember they might have well-intentioned, yet misguided, desires to protect their kids from the harshness of reality. Most omissions and lies are either coming from love or are a merely a consequence of dealing with an elderly mind.
Don’t be combative or confrontational about it; do like I did in calling my cousin and reach out to others for confirmation instead.
Assessing Immediate Needs
Food. I know that my mom doesn’t drive and lives far from town, so I inquire about her nutritional needs. We casually talk about her appetite, food availability, and her ability to cook now that my father and brother aren’t there to help her. She tells me that there’s an affordable taxi service that can take her to the grocery store, that she can cook, and her appetite’s just fine.
Bills. After being married for decades, people naturally take on certain roles within the relationship. I’d assumed that my father did all of the fiscal management for the two of them, so I’m relieved when I learn that my mom had taken over the task well before my father’s hospitalization.
Maintenance. My brother, until very recently, helped my mother with bigger chores and deep cleaning. Without assistance from him or my father, she needs to find someone else to do these things. It’s something that I promise to look into.
Emotions. With my brother having his own health crisis and my father delusional and in the psychiatric ward of the local hospital, my mom is facing some exceptionally difficult challenges. She is suddenly living alone and having to make some major adjustments while also carrying a lot of emotional pain. She tells me not to worry, though, because between her church community, the social workers at the hospital, and her psychologist, she’s doing better than she thought she would be.
The Next Steps: The Internet Is Your Best Friend
I shudder to think about navigating these challenges without the internet. With just a little online sleuthing, it’s easy to find information on a variety of public and private programs that serve our elderly community. Being search-savvy is key!
State Units on Aging
Each state and territory in the US have an official office (State Unit on Aging) that is dedicated to assisting older residents with their needs. It’s worth checking this list https://www.longtermcarelink.net/eldercare/ref_state_aging_services.htm
and contacting the appropriate division to find out what services are available. I learned through them that I can get meals delivered at home to my mother, Monday – Friday, at no cost.
Key Words: “Services for Seniors”
Typing in the town’s name and “services for seniors” into your search engine is another good place to start your investigation. I was lucky to discover several regional non-profits that offer things like personal development classes, sliding-scale house cleaning, and appointment transportation.
Key Words: “Companion Care” and “Home Health Care”
It’s clear that the private sector care can potentially meet the needs of both of my parents. To me, home health care companies are a “one-stop shop,” and in many ways it’s the most convenient route to take because individual services from other organizations don’t have to be cobbled together.
Companion Care: This is non-skilled, non-medical assistance. A whole range of services is included here—and includes things like companionship, meal prep, appointment scheduling and accompaniment, game play, and light housekeeping. It’s meant to ease the hardships of living at home and can be something as minimal as just a few hours a week.
CNA/Home Health Aid: Home health aides make a positive impact on the lives of the sick, disabled, and elderly. They offer assistance with personal tasks such as dressing, bathing, and other hygiene needs. Home health aides may also assist with transportation and accompaniment to medical appointments.Skilled Nursing: Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs) and Registered Nurses (RNs) can assist with medical needs in the home including vital sign monitoring, medication administration, feeding tube care, colostomy care, wound care, urinary catheter care, and in-home education training for clients and family caregivers.