February 19, 2020

Wake Up and Smell the Ensure!

Everyone I know seems to be taking on a new role these days – taking care of aging parents or grandparents.

I spent an emotional hour with one of my dearest childhood friends at a restaurant last week, helping her adjust to her new full-blown responsibility as a caregiver for her 88-year-old mother (same age as my Dad). Her mom has been hospitalized for 3 long weeks, first for bronchitis-turned-into-pneumonia, and now dealing with getting her off a feeding tube and a worsening of her dementia. When I went to get my hair cut today, my hairdresser was talking about her mom’s slide into frailty, and inability to take care of herself anymore. And last week at shul, I got into a brief conversation with a newer congregant, who was there with his 91-year-old Mom, who whispered to me, “I see you here with your son and wondered how you did it. Now I’m Mom’s caregiver. She’s acting more like 19 than 91—she’s so stubborn.”

As my 19-year-old daughter used to say: Welcome to My World!

The type of case management we have been doing for many years for our son in order to get the optimal medical care, medications and therapies is a new skill that many of my same-age peers are just starting to learn. With the graying of the Jewish community now in full swing, it is time that everyone learned a few key lessons of how to provide caregiving for a relative:

1) Get a big 3-ring notebook or an accordion file and start keeping every piece of paper connected with your loved one in the same place, in chronological order

2) Create a phone directory with the names, phone numbers and emails of every professional with whom you come into contact—do not keep the information scribbled on a bunch of post it notes attached to your computer

3) Try to plan ahead for possible next steps—so that can mean checking out different in-home options, assisted living or even skilled nursing homes. Having knowledge ahead of time will go a long way to minimize stress down the road

4) When someone is in the hospital, it is critical that family members or close friends be there to be advocates. Hospitals are disconcerting even for the healthy, but when you are sick on top of being elderly or disabled, it can be much worse. Paying close attention to which medications are being administered is very important.

5) Always be on the lookout for the positive—in the midst of medical appointments and therapies, you can easily overlook the chance for something wonderful, like a smile on seeing a rainbow or enjoying a frozen yogurt on the way home.

Above all, always treat your loved ones as you would want to be taken care of—because in a few years, you may be on the receiving end of caregiving.

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