By Attorney David Engler
Last week I saw an old friend who was wearing the stress of the morning on her face. Now my friend is a well-educated and savvy professional who rarely finds herself flummoxed. However, take this 60-year-old woman and have her Alzheimer’s-diagnosed mother ask her the same question everyday about her dress size and she gets reduced to a 12-year-old school girl remembering a disapproving mother.
It is remarkable how a parent who is ill from dementia or Alzheimer’s can cause such severe stress to the caregiver. All of the family fault lines are exposed. The siblings who live out-of-town can make a call and be seen as the good child and the parent will let you know it. Once the decision to move them from their home is made, the parent will hold the decision maker responsible. I asked her if her mother knew what day it was and she responded that she knew because a new day was every morning when she stopped at her care home before going to work. It takes true love and a sense of responsibility to shoulder this task.
Moreover, the family needs to understand the emotional and financial toll it takes on the family. It is exactly this toll that goes in to our change basket and adds up as we develop resentments for the other family members who we believe get off easy and do not understand the commitment.
In advance, if possible, or with the help of a neutral party like a family counselor or attorney experienced in elder law issues, a family should call for a retreat to strategize the needs of an aging parent. We come together to celebrate births and we should come together to celebrate and plan for the remaining years of our parents. There are many issues that need discussed, like the cost of care and what documents are necessary to provide for Medicaid eligibility.
The first meeting should be without the parent unless they are clearly competent and understand that the goal of the meeting is to plan for an uncertain future. All of the baggage needs to be checked at the door of the meeting room and fully examined for explosives (figuratively). The professional can help with the communication tools that seem to be so elusive when dealing with family.
The goals for all, needs to be focused. I like to start with a positive reinforcement of the 3 most beautiful things we can say about our parent. We then need to have everyone list what 3 goals they would like to take away from the retreat. In advance, an assessment of finances is prepared and an understanding of the condition faced by the parent.
Once again it does not seem to matter how many degrees a person has because when it comes to dealing with a person with Alzheimer’s, rationality goes out the window. When your 86-year-old mother says your butt looks big, we lose perspective. That is why it is important to create a situation where the family can seek an agreement with each other, understanding, and an appreciation for the caregiver at the bedside.
By the way my friend is half of a size 18 dress.