Tag Archives: relationships with elders

Surviving the Stress of Transitions

Transitions can be a bear. Given the choice, most of us would rather keep doing the same things, even when our habits have long outlived their value.  It’s no wonder that elders with dementia resist changing their living situations long after they’ve lost the skills needed to manage daily life.

If you look at transitions in a larger context, it’s pretty clear that humans are both terrified and excited by them. Big changes can provoke us to strive toward growth — or crash into failure — and this process starts early. During the transition from middle to high school, many students stumble academically and continue to slide downhill.  Statistics from the National High School Center show that a disproportionate number of ninth graders are held back in ninth grade, prompting many of them to drop out of school by tenth grade. The transition to college is just as hard. A 2010 study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) showed that the United States finished last among 18 developed countries “for the percentage of students (46%) who completed college once they started it.”

If we balk at life transitions that have a lot of hope and promise attached to them, it’s easy to see how stressful change must be for elders whose declining skills force them into new situations. Although my mom’s advancing dementia had clearly reduced her ability to manage daily survival, her resistance to asking for help was tremendous. We tried talking her into getting an aide or a housekeeper, but she felt this was a ridiculous intrusion. She was also sure that her children could do what hired helpers might — even though we lived hours away from her and could barely manage our own lives while monitoring hers. A crazy work schedule had turned my hair into an overgrown mess, but Mom was deeply offended when I said I didn’t have time to chauffeur her to a salon.

We finally persuaded my mother to modify her living situation when a burst pipe flooded her kitchen. The leak scared her enough to make her move in with me “temporarily”. Proceeding by baby steps, our family helped her slowly get used to living in a different house, with a new routine. Her quality of life improved dramatically. But she never would have believed that at the beginning.

An article in the June/July 2012 issue of AARP magazine suggests that these smaller moves toward a bigger life change can help ease the transition process for elders who cling to old homes and habits. Susan Johnson of Care Management Associates suggested providing help “in spoonfuls, not buckets”. It’s better to start by offering to hire someone for a task your loved one doesn’t like, such as cleaning house. As things progress, include the elder in decisions about managing other chores that present difficulty. If a parent feels like you are ordering them around, they may present even greater resistance to change.

Small things like the end of a beloved TV series or the closing of a favorite store can make us very sad, so imagine how hard it is for elders to say goodbye to an entire life’s worth of well-worn habits. The need for transitions will never disappear. But we can make change easier if it’s wrapped in some gentle wisdom.

Don’t Try This Alone — Thanks from a Caregiver

During recent weeks, we’ve done a lot to help my mom enjoy the holidays. Caring for her at home has allowed us to create many special moments like Mom’s visit with her sisters, a trip to New York, and a surprise birthday party. But we would never be able to keep her here and do all these things without a fleet of helpers who assist with so many aspects of her care. For this year of care and these happy holidays, we thank:

1. Special transit bus drivers! — These people keep a tough schedule and help many people overcome mobility barriers. We are so lucky that our drivers include people like Snuffy, who is older than some of his passengers, but hums with the joy of a kid.  Mom seems to glow in his presence. And Cathy? — she is like an old family friend.

2. Bus dispatchers — I can’t count the number of times my mom has gotten scared or disoriented on the bus and demanded to be taken home. The dispatchers guide the bus drivers through tense moments and re-arranged her schedule so mom can travel with friends who keep her calm.

3. Adult Day Care assistants — The people at my mom’s center in Palmerton are patient, cheerful, and skilled at helping elders with a wide range of problems. My mom feels safe and cared for, and she’s had the chance to build deep friendships which have totally changed her life.

4. Neighbors — Ever had to make this call: “Help! I’m stuck in traffic! Can you be there when mom’s bus gets in?” Or how about this one, “I’m at the end of my rope. Do you have wine or should I bring my own?”, or my personal favorite, “We need a laugh. Can you bring your best jokes over to our porch?”

5. Friends — They distract us with tales of their growing kids. They are not afraid of tears. Sometimes they cry too … and even share their tissues. They always know which TV shows and bank cashiers to avoid.

6. “Consequential Strangers” — the lady in the post office, the lady in the bakery — people you barely know who always find a way to make you feel good. They give you the prettiest stamps, or a free doughnut for mom.

7. Other caregivers — We are never really alone. People share stories about caring for their spouses, their parents. The deep spiritual aspects of this journey are real — and not just to me. It’s a sacred duty shared by many who understand it better than I do.

8. Incredible medical professionals — The nurses, doctors,  technicians, social workers and aides who bring knowledge and patience to the care process. Their expertise helps a novice like me face a job for which I never studied.

9. Family members — Siblings who share the work, the tears, and good ideas that improve care process. I know there are families out there where people don’t get along and the burdens aren’t shared. But it’s never too late to mend your fences and start working together.

10. Our higher power — We might call it by different names — so I’ll let you  insert your own. Those moments of spiritual peace keep our fortress of care from crumbling.

The list may stop here, but the gratitude does not.  This job is too hard and too important to be done by one person. My family is thankful for all those made our year of family care possible.