Betsy and I were both raised by parents born in the first quarter of the 20th century. We were raised on stories of war, poverty, struggles for gender and racial equality, and the like. Members of our parents’ and grandparents’ generations have proven themselves to be resilient and self-reliant repeatedly during their lifetimes. The Great Depression, two World Wars and many more localized military actions, assassinations of national leaders, racial tensions, and terrorism have all added stamina and stress to their lives.
With all the fortitude they have built up, is it any wonder that when our aging loved ones begin to need help, they remain obstinately insistent that they can manage things just fine on their own? Our own mothers both lived well into their 80’s as strong-willed, independent widows who still drove, volunteered in church and community, and needed virtually no help to maintain their self-sufficiency. After all, to admit they needed help would feel like a weakness or vulnerability, and that was totally unacceptable!
There are lots of reasons why aging family members refuse to accept offers of help or support. Many older people don’t want to be a burden on their adult children or other family members. Sometimes money is of concern and they don’t feel they can afford in-home care. Add to that a resistance born of fear that if a stranger comes into the home they could steal precious family heirlooms or money. Theft is a commonly expressed fear of seniors needing assistance in their homes. Occasionally the senior is in denial or doesn’t recognize that they are unsafe living alone. Depression or chronic illness can also contribute to a reluctance to accept help. And sometimes they are like my mother, who stubbornly refused to have anyone in her home to help her as she grew older!
Whatever the reason for resisting help, the truth is that many seniors could continue to live safely and securely at home for much longer with just a little assistance from a helper or caregiver. While Betsy’s mother also resisted care at first, she finally allowed her son to get her a caregiver to come in a couple of times a week. The companionship and help with housekeeping began as a guarded acceptance and grew into a beautiful friendship that lasted the rest of Sarah’s life. What started as 2 visits weekly blossomed into daily caregivers who helped her with bathing, dressing, driving for errands, preparing meals, and keeping house. This dependable service allowed Betsy to visit her mom regularly and be the daughter instead of the caregiver. Sarah came to trust and rely on her caregivers, and Betsy and her brother had peace of mind in knowing someone was there every day to make sure Sarah was healthy and happy.
One important factor in helping Sarah come to accept care was choosing a reliable home care company that would handle scheduling, staffing, and staying on top of Sarah’s daily care. This freed both Betsy and Billy up to handle their responsibilities at work and at home. Using a professional home care company costs more than hiring private individuals, but they are responsible when things go wrong, the caregiver can’t come, or something in the home gets broken or goes missing. Also, the caregivers are thoroughly trained to give the appropriate care and to recognize when something is wrong. Finally, they worked with Sarah on physical therapy exercises, helped her stay on top of her medication schedule, and alerted someone when she wasn’t eating normally or exhibited lethargy. These alerts helped her children get her to her doctor for medical intervention when needed.
So how did Betsy and Billy get their mother to accept the care and assistance she needed when the time came? Over time, before the need became critical, they began a conversation with her about how much they cared about her, and how worried they were when they weren’t with her. They reinforced these points gently and persistently over a couple of years and wore down her resistance with their continued expressions of love, care, and concern. Honestly shared feelings of fear, concern, and love finally won the day.
Betsy and I hope you’ll join us this week here at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about helping your loved ones accept help at home.