My children are beginning to suspect that I haven’t told them the full story of our circumstances,” confided Jeannie, a lovely seventyish piano teacher. “Les and I were always in charge of our home, finances and lives, but now we see sideways glances exchanged between them when we are together.”
Jeannie’s children were right to suspect they did not know the full story. She had fallen twice in the past two months, and Les had become disoriented and then lost while walking home from the clubhouse the week before. The children had been concerned for some time, but after a recent gathering they were starting to become “anxious” about their parents. Franny, the eldest, was shocked to see how frail their mother had become. She was surprised that her father had a vacant look about him and seemed to be disengaged from conversations. She set up a family internet conference to discuss the issues.
The siblings were in general disagreement on how things should be handled. Zoe, Franny’s sister, ventured that the parents needed to be in an assisted living facility, but John, for financial reasons, felt they should move in with one of them. His wife did not seem too enthused about that. Chas, the youngest, who had just moved into an apartment in a different state, felt they should stay in their home.
The family was slipping into crisis, and no one was talking to the parents about it. Jeannie refused to acknowledge anything had changed, and given the siblings other responsibilities no one had sufficient time to stay with them to work through the sensitive issues. Each sibling also had their own lives with which to contend and they had never faced a crisis jointly. Jeannie understood this and stonewalled when the children were in town, knowing they would eventually leave.
Sound familiar? These are issues that have impacted families through time, and will impact virtually all current families in one form or another as they age. The best option is for the parents themselves, while they are capable, to develop a set of preferred options for continued living.
But often, the situation will have deteriorated to the point that the decision must be made by the family instead. Here, one option is to turn to a professional Care Manager who has training and experience working with people who are either in denial about their situation or fear that talking about it will lead to a move that they do not desire. They also have experience with families who disagree on the best course of action.
A professional Care Manager can monitor the situation, soothe hurt feelings and address the anger that comes from the loss of independence. They will consult family members and help to establish mutual goals and an overall plan for the future. They can help find resources to resolve issues from socialization to appropriate modification of housing to financial analysis and advice.
But regardless of with whom the family wants to consult, it is important to realize that each of the deciders will have their own agenda and perspective, not all of it clear even to themselves. Franny is the implicit leader of the family, but might not have the resources to care for Les and Jeannie. Zoe might, but also might not want to be bothered herself. John may develop a marital problem of his own if he opts in, and Chas may be acting with an unrealized desire to keep his old home environment intact.
We have seen it all. With the perspective of a professional Care Manager, we would like to share some of the issues with families facing ageing. Next month we will continue this family’s story.