Practice compassion during Mom's grief over losing a trusted caregiver
In today's "Minding Our Elders" column, Carol says it's a hard situation, yet a common one — older people grow attached to a professional helper who then must leave.
Dear Carol: My mom’s been alone since Dad died five years ago. She’s had several strokes but was doing well until the last one, when it became obvious that she needed someone to help her shower, set up some meals and provide some companionship. At first, she fought having anyone with her, but she finally gave in and eventually grew close to a woman who lives nearby and comes in daily.
This caregiver will be leaving town in a few weeks because her husband changed jobs. Mom’s already grieving this loss, which is understandable, but she doesn’t want to “start fresh” with someone new. She says she’ll be fine alone. She won’t. How do we convince her to try a new caregiver through an agency? — KS.
Dear KS: This is such a hard situation, yet a common one. When older people grow attached to a caregiver who then must leave, the experience just adds to the heap of losses that most have already endured. My family saw this with my uncle’s agency caregivers. Because he had daily care there were some rotations, but he had two caregivers who were definite favorites so he looked forward to their company.
Is it possible to start ahead of time using both this caregiver and one from an agency? That way, the longtime caregiver could introduce the new person to your mom as well as train the new caregiver about your mom’s needs and preferences.
More importantly, perhaps, is simply transferring the trust factor. Having the long-time caregiver introduce them and stay around for a scheduled time should make your mom more comfortable. Ideally, they could come together for several days, though each day the longtime caregiver could leave earlier giving your mom time alone with the new person.
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If this approach isn’t possible or is too expensive, then you could tell your mom that each caregiver is just there for a trial but she needs to give them time to see if they can become compatible. You may need to try different agencies, but if your mom can eventually accept a caregiver, it’s worth your time.
Another option is that you could suggest assisted living to your mom. If you've discussed this option before, now might be the time to make this change because change is happening anyway. Even if you haven’t discussed assisted living in the past, now may be time to at least consider the idea. For more socially oriented people, it can be attractive because of the activities which have been starting up again in some locations.
Don’t push assisted living at this time unless she expresses interest. Just remind her that this is the only alternative if she can’t learn to accept a new in-home caregiver.
Remember that your mom’s grieving the loss of a friend and having to accept a big change all at once. Present ideas, but assure her that you'll try to make any of her choices workable except leaving her without the help that she needs.
Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran caregiver and an established columnist. She is also a blogger, and the author of “Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories.” Bradley Bursack hosts a website supporting caregivers and elders at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached through the contact form on her website.