July 6th, 2011 at 9:00 am
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Be prepared to address key concerns

by Kathryn Kilpatrick, M.A. CCC/SLP

When an older adult’s abilities gradually change, it may not be obvious that we should be concerned. After all, it is common for individuals as they age to experience changes in vision, some hearing loss, memory lapses and possible mobility issues. However, it usually takes a hospitalization, a move or even the loss of a loved one to shift a person’s perspective on what is occurring.

Indeed, we all want to be independent for as long as possible. Making choices that keep us safe and connected with others does make a difference. It is not uncommon for there to be someone who sees changes others do not. Often, it is about their connection with that person, previous experiences with aging, related professional experiences and/or physical proximity. There may also be that person who does not want to deal with the changes and concerns, while others may step up to the plate and do the best they can, hoping others will come on board. When talking with families where a loved one is noticeably no longer able to function without some assistance, there are some options I might suggest before broaching difficult conversations.

Conduct a personal inventory first

Before you start on the road to communicating concerns, note if you are preoccupied, hurried, in a bad mood or just too tired to give any discussions your best shot. Maybe you need a 15 minute time out first, take a walk, do some deep breathing or listen to some relaxing music. I found that a trial conversation with my sister-in-law or a good friend who knew the situation would often help me to talk out frustrations prior to saying anything to my mother.

Bring with you a good attitude, willingness to hear what the older adult wants to say even if you do not agree and an extra dose of patience. No one likes someone to come in and tell them what they should do. You may not feel the discussion accomplished what you expected but you may be surprised how your more relaxed approach might foster a return to the topic at a later date.

Do your homework

As we all know, something might change very unexpectedly. For example, no one in my friend’s family expected their father to have a stroke when has 55 years old. He was in the prime of his life and healthy. In many cases an older adult’s spouse may have been relied upon to serve as the primary caregiver. However, a major health crisis could prevent them from serving in that role.

That’s why it is important to be prepared. Tap into local community resources and ask plenty of questions. If there is a particular area you are focusing on, contact that national association. My friend’s neighbor was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. She went to the national website, got some information, attended support groups and started to become more aware of what to focus on to maximize his safety and quality of life.

My mom lived in Massachusetts and after a second unsuccessful surgery to try to save the sight in her eye after a serious fall, I started doing my homework. Living in Ohio, I knew the local resources but needed to find what was available for her, including transportation services. After her fall, I brought her to Ohio for a complete driving assessment, including reaction time and a road test to make sure she was safe. A decade later when there was a concern about her driving, I spoke at length with her physician first. If she would not agree to give up her car keys, we put together a plan. He asked me to research the laws and procedures in Massachusetts and we would go from there.

Check around the area where the older adult lives and see what places might be appropriate for services, such as adult care, assisted living, a continuous care retirement community or home companion services. Get your legal documents in order or updated. Talk to the social worker and consult an attorney specializing in elder care issues.

There is an abundance of resources and for those that do not have a computer, ask for the help of a friend who does have one or go to the library to use one of their computers. For some, a phone call and being able to talk to a person may be more reassuring at first.

For additional information, refer to The critical conversation: Six tips to consider.

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