St. Mark’s Adult Education Meeting Summary
“Parenting Your Parents”
Sunday, September 30, 2001
September 30, Deb Neumeister will present: “Parenting Your Parents” and “Taking Care of Your Parents When They Are Far Away.” Deb is a Licensed Social Worker on the staff of the Marjorie P. Lee Retirement Community, an Episcopal Retirement Home in Cincinnati. For those in the “Sandwich Generation,” this is a topic of critical importance as we seek to be faithful to those who have been so faithful to us.
St. Mark’s was pleased to have Deb Neumeister, who is a Licensed Social Worker on the staff of the Marjorie P. Lee Retirement Community, an Episcopal Retirement Home in Cincinnati. The topic upon which she spoke was “Parenting Your Parents” and “Taking Care of Your Parents When They Are Far Away.” For those in the “sandwich generation,” this is a topic of critical importance as we seek to be faithful to those who have been so faithful to us.
At age 25, people actually start to shrink as the discs in their backbones become compressed. At 35 the spine starts to bend and at age 75 many women have lost up to one third of their bone mass. So as we age, at some point it may very well be necessary for someone else to have to look after us.
The first step when trying to help a parent is to assess their physical needs. This can be difficult as parents can indeed become like children again and try and fool you. They also like to play on family members’ guilt or use cover-up tactics to hide the fact that there is indeed a problem. Usually senility is not a factor since it actually affects only a very small portion of the entire adult population. Dressing and grooming habits can also be used to assess fitness. In general, appetites decrease as people age. So eating of smaller quantities can be considered normal. However, it then becomes more necessary to supplement intake with additional vitamins. Swallowing can become a problem for some people. If there are swallowing problems, food particles can end up in the lungs, which can lead to more serious problems such as pneumonia. Pneumonia is the single biggest illness that takes the life of most seniors. Incontinence can also be a problem, which many elderly parents will try to hide, as this may become an issue of dignity. There is a fine line between them keeping their own responsibilities and allowing them to “learn helplessness”. If the child does too much for the parent, it may have the negative effect of creating excess dependency. For example, don’t try and force a wheelchair on you parent before they really need one. It is much better to have them try and walk with a cane or even a walker so as to be able to keep as much independence as possible. There are also those who will refuse to use any type of assist device as a matter of pride. When it comes to doctors and medication, it is best to seek the help of geriatric specialists. Drugs for the elderly can be different than those prescribed for a younger person. Sometimes it is necessary to obtain help from a geriatric psychiatrist if behavior or mental illness problems are involved. Once again, it is best to seek help with the specialist since they are used to dealing with problems related specifically to the elderly on a daily basis. If falling down and stability are issues, then there is a gate belt available that can be used to stabilize older walkers. There are loops on the sides of the belt, which can be held by someone else as the person walks along. Suitable lifting devices are also available if needed, as older bones can be very fragile. Thus, lifting by the arms and joints should be avoided where possible.
It should also be recognized that certain behaviors may be caused by pain that an individual is suffering. Communication is very important. Sometimes the elderly will attempt to do things the way they would have when they were many years younger. Their ambitions need to be re-channeled into activities which are safe. Assessing driving capabilities, in particular, can be a daunting task. It is better for the family member to let a group of professionals make that assessment. There are testing methods available through local hospitals where the parent must demonstrate the ability to be able to drive or have their license revoked. Using this approach takes the burden away from the family member.
It may be just as important for the person giving the care to have a support group, as it is to provide the care itself. Sometimes there are close friends available who can fulfill this need or there are also agencies, such as United Way, which can help. The child or care provider needs to have time for himself or herself. Sometimes you have to keep your sense of humor about the whole situation, especially when dementia is involved as the parent may say something totally off the wall or something very embarrassing. Also remember the abilities of the parent before they became ill. Sometimes too much is expected and sometimes they don’t always understand the terminology of new or different questions which they may be asked.
The Episcopal Retirement Homes, Inc. also puts out a paper called “Caregiver’s Guide” in which many of the things which are helpful to know about care giving for the elderly are in one handy reference. Although people do not like to discuss it, there is also the issue of what to do if the parent may eventually need life support. The child or care provider must be aware of the various options that are available. This can also vary state by state. There are living wills in which the parent can direct their wishes. However, it was noted that family members are still asked if they wish to honor the living will. Now in the state of Ohio there is also the “do not resuscitate” order that cannot be easily challenged by family members. There is also the Power of Attorney (for finances) and the Durable Power of Attorney (for health care) which can assign responsibility to a younger family member. These, however, must be arranged while the parent is still fully competent. If all the children in a family move out of state, the issues become more complex as a separate guardian will need to be appointed. It is also imperative to understand what the financial impact may be on the parent and what laws may affect the situation. If a parent’s savings are being depleted, at least $1,500 may be kept aside for purchasing essential items such as wheelchairs, lift chairs, etc. The parent may also arrange for an irrevocable burial which sets aside a fixed amount of money for burial irrespective of the children’s wishes.
When dealing with nursing home stays, call weekly and stay in touch with the staff. Listen not only to what your parent says, but also to what they don’t say. Assign various family members roles to spread the burden and rotate visits so that no one family member is there all the time. Also when you go to visit your parent, stop and talk and really visit. Don’t just go and do a number of chores that may need to be done.
Those who attended thanked Deb for taking the time to visit St. Mark’s and enlightening us about this very important subject matter. A few brochures were left on the usher’s table for anyone interested (more are available). These cover topics such as home safety checks, a checklist on how to choose a nursing home, and a bibliography on giving care to the elderly. More information may also be obtained by visiting The Episcopal Retirement Homes’ web site at www.episcopalretirement.com.