Caring for aging parents

Taking on physical, emotional needs of senior citizens is tall order

By Barbara Pierce

“I love my mother dearly. But I didn’t sign up for this,” said 62-year-old Ana Caraza of Naples, Fla. “It’s awkward — figuring out how much to get involved and just how to help. And what a challenge! I never have even a spare minute for myself!”

Caraza, wife, mother, and grandmother, works full time and cares for her aged parents and her husband’s aged parents.

Most older people eventually need help from others. Very few transition from being independent to deceased without needing help from others. Family members are by far the No. 1 source of support for older adults.

“It’s a tough job, Caraza said.

Tips from Caraza and others:

— Isolation, loneliness, and boredom are the most common issues among elderly people. They may not be able to drive; they’ve lost most of their friends.

“Loneliness has bad effects on both mental and physical health. Being isolated and without social interaction contributes to quicker cognitive decline,” said Kathleen Rutishauser, co-owner, Daughter for Hire LLC, Clinton.

Daughter for Hire “fills in the gaps” for seniors, helping with things they are no longer able to do. Their goal is to help senior citizens remain in their own homes as long as they safely can.

“We’re companions to our clients; a caring friend to senior citizens,” said Rutishauser. “We take them out. This makes a big difference in their day.”

“It’s important to keep your aging parents from being socially isolated,” Caraza noted. “I try to take them out once a week.”

To keep them from being bored, “I have to think of stuff they can do at home,” she added. “That’s where it gets tricky.” She taught her mother to play games on the Internet. Facebook was too complicated. Adult coloring books work.

— When health is the ultimate concern, you must become involved.

“As they age, you have to stick your nose into their business,” said Caraza. “I had to get super involved with their medical care. They don’t want to tell you stuff.”

“My mom complains to me endlessly about her memory problems, her ‘nerves,’ lack of energy and arthritis pain. But when we’re with her doctor, she’s all lively and charming and has no complaints to report,” Caraza added.

Denial runs rampant

Denial is a natural tool to help us get through difficult situations until we’re ready to tackle them. When aging parents come home from a doctor’s visit without any major developments, they’ve dodged a bullet. Many direct all their energy to convince the doctor all is well.

“You need to know about their doctor’s appointments, their medication, changes, make sure they’re taking it right,” added Caraza. Her parents signed a form so that the doctor can talk with her.

“They need to hold their own power in what’s happening. That’s huge. I have to make it clear to them that I’m at the doctor’s office to help, not to take over,” she added.

Questioning treatments and medications, speaking out about one’s own needs, and being a partner in decisions doesn’t come easily to older people. Others often need to serve as questioners and record keepers.

“At Daughter for Hire, we get them to medical appointments, go in with them if they wish, and take notes to share later because there are so many things people end up missing, like changes in medication and follow up recommendations,” said Rutishauser. “We follow up, take them to get new medication or refills, and take them to physical therapy.”

Medical professionals are notoriously busy, but during the visit, make sure the doctor interacts with your parent. Some will speak directly to you, since it’s faster and easier to get straight answers.

— Consider hiring a caregiver:  Care giving is there to help you and your parents. “Families may live locally but they have their own kids and jobs. We fill in the gap,” said Rutishauser.

“We’re a happy, smiling face,” she added. “We work with them, listen to their stories, and take time with them. We can make a meal, houseclean, clean out the refrigerator, run errands, and go grocery shopping.”

“We’re more than someone who works for them,” she added. “It grows into a friendship. Nobody wants a stranger coming in their home. But as time goes by, they realize there are things they need help with, things we can do it together, like making cookies or doing the laundry. We develop great relationships with our clients.”

“It makes a big difference whether the person can stay in their home or must go to assisted living,” she added.

For more information about how Daughter for Hire can help or to set up a free consultation, call 315-725-2955 or see https://www.daughter-for-hire.com.

Mohawk Valley Community College offers an online course, “Helping Elderly Parents,” giving you the tools, techniques, resources, and insights to handle most of the challenges you will face. See its website — https://www.mvcc.edu/ — for details.

Caring for an aging parent is one of the hardest jobs you will ever have. You must also have a dedication to taking care of yourself.

Photo: Kathleen Rutishauser, left, Denise Flihan are co-owners of Daughter for Hire LLC in Clinton.

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