In many families there comes a point when everyone realizes that an aging family member can no longer live independently.

Perhaps that individual has trouble with falling. Or the person cannot be trusted with the stove. For whatever reason the person is no longer safe living alone. At that point the the sibling who has no children to take care of, or the one who does not work outside the home is usually labeled the best fit for taking care of the aging parent. Aside from the fact that this can cause resentment for the person who is nominated to be the sole caregiver for an aging parent, sometimes there’s not enough consideration put into what is really the best fit for mom or dad’s care. Just because a person does not work outside the home or does not have any children to take care of, it does not mean they are the most well suited to be a caregiver.

Caregiving requires a tremendous amount of patience

Even in cases where the individual is mostly self sufficient but just needs help with the basics, the caregiver has to be patient. Patient with frequent requests for help, patient with accidents and messes, patient with emotions or endless chatter. Is the chosen caregiver a good match for the aging person? Some people are not particularly tolerant of others and live alone or are childless by choice. They might not make good caregivers. Be mindful of condemning the aging person to an unhappy living arrangement.

Caregiving requires a proper setup

Will the aging person be able to live in a home that is accessible to someone with disabilities? Will Mom or Dad have to use stairs to get in the front door or to reach the bedroom? Can the doors and the bathroom be modified for a wheelchair if necessary? Are their aggressive or rowdy pets that can injure or trip the aging person?

Caregiving requires attentiveness

The caregiver needs to watch their loved one for signs of change (increased confusion, balance issues), observe how new medications are affecting their loved one (drowsiness, loss of appetite), and look for ways to proactively prevent problems (remove throw rugs or knobs from the stove).

Caregiving requires tremendous compassion

The caregiver should be empathetic toward what their loved one is going through and should try to show concern for his or her own well-being, too.

If the family has strongly considered the responsibilities of the role and thinks there could be a problem, they might want to consider a long-term care community if they can afford it. An assisted living community helps with the basic needs of daily living like bathing, dressing, and meal preparation. A nursing home offers more intensive care such as transferring in and out of bed, help with feeding, medical care, and medication management.

I know that many people consider placing their parents in a nursing home to be abandoning them. But that is not necessarily true.

Unlike a home care situation, there are staff who work reasonable shifts and then they go home, returning to work the next day, refreshed. Ideally. They are not solely responsible for an individual in the nursing home. They have help and resources to do the job well. Now there are nursing homes still in existence that would frighten anyone, homes you wouldn’t condemn your meanest relative to live in. But many nursing homes are filled with compassionate, loving, experienced individuals who can provide a quality of life that you or another family member could find impossible to measure up to. This option requires a lot of homework from the family. You don’t really know what quality you’re getting into until your relative lives in the long-term care community for awhile. Placing a loved one into a community means you must show up often and see what life there is like.

A different scenario, if a long-term care community is not a financial option or is just too repulsive to you, is to hire caregivers to help out on a regular, or occasional, basis. This can give the family caregiver a much needed break especially if he or she is in a particularly demanding caregiver assignment. The hired caregiver can also share techniques and experience with the family that can make the work easier and more efficient. Choosing the right hired caregiver should involve talking to an established agency. Although the family can save money by privately hiring a privately contracted caregiver, there are risks.

  1. Relying on just one private caregiver for too many hours can lead to caregiver burnout. Burned out caregivers can become neglectful or abusive.
  2. Hiring a private caregiver can create a scheduling nightmare for the family. Imagine if the family makes plans for a special event because they assume the hired caregiver will take care of Mom. What happens when the caregiver cancels at the last minute? An agency might be able to send a replacement but replacing a private caregiver requires the family to take on the agency role.
  3. Make sure that your homeowner’s insurance will cover the private caregiver in the event of an injury on the job. The family should confirm that the caregiver has personal liability insurance and is legal to work in the country.
  4. A background check is vital. Be sure the caregiver has paperwork to confirm that they are a low-risk candidate for the job.

Going with an agency places the administrative, vetting, and scheduling work on someone else.

Ultimately, the family needs to look at a number of factors when considering how to handle an aging love one’s inability to continue living alone. Finances are certainly important to think about as they can provide or eliminate options. The stresses that arise from some living arrangements can be manageable or they can be unbearable. If it is possible, the family should take their time and be sure to include the aging loved one in the conversation. They might even discover that Mom or Dad has no desire to live with an adult child and would rather move to an assisted living home. The final decision should come down to what is best for the aging person, but that point should include the mental health of the family caregiver. An over-burdened caregiver is not a good caregiver. So what is the best caregiving arrangement? Only you and your family can decide. Let me know if I can help with any questions you have. Kim

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