Aging and the need for long-term care can take us by surprise. For some people, the need for long-term care can come be brought on by a sudden event such as a fall, stroke, advancing dementia, or other health-related maladies. For others, it can slowly creep up over time and without realizing it one or more loved ones have become caregivers. Confronting the fact that a person has transitioned in life from being independent to dependent in one way or another is difficult.
When family members start to offer more assistance
It can be difficult to realize or admit that as a person ages, they may have shifted from the typical effects of aging. For example, reducing levels of strength, stamina, dexterity, and memory. As a spouse or extended family members start to offer more assistance, the need for real long-term care support and services can be mistaken for a shift in age-related lifestyle. In other words, as you are giving more and more assistance to a loved one, you may be confusing what you are doing as just part of the normal aging process. You have to understand that you actually become a long-term care provider.
For example, I have asked the question to families in the past if their loved one is able to shower on their own. They have answered a very certain “yes”. Then, go on to describe how the showering works: “My husband/wife showers on their own no problem. I do turn on the water and make sure it isn’t too hot, and then I help them get in and out so they don’t fall. Also, I make sure I stand by when they get out to dry off and are getting dressed so they don’t fall. So, yeah they shower on their own no problem.”
Variations of that conversation happen far too often. And, when the subject of possible long-term care provided by professionals comes up, families can become defensive. They also insist that it won’t be necessary for years to come.
There are two things people need to understand when they start to open their eyes to the reality of their situation
- Showering is just one example of what is known as an “Activity of Daily Living” or an ADL. These are recognized clinical measures of safely living independently. As these ADLs become no longer possible they are a measuring trigger for long-term care support and services. The list of ADLs includes:
- Selecting proper attire
- Maintaining continence
- Putting on clothes
- Walking and transferring (such as moving from bed to wheelchair)
2. In addition to ADLs, there is an additional measure of independence known as “Instrumental Activities of Daily Living” or IADL. These are the more complex skills of living independently that would be reasonable to expect of a young adult coming out of high school. The list of IADLs includes:
- Managing finances
- Handling transportation (driving or navigating public transit)
- Preparing meals
- Using the telephone and other communication devices
- Managing medications
- Housework and basic home maintenance
Reaching out to a professional
These are the clues to look for to help determine if a loss of independence is occurring and if you have become a care provider making up for the loss of ADLs. If you see this happening, it is time to reach out to a professional Geriatric Care Manager. They can provide a professional and impartial assessment of the current situation, and what care may now be necessary. It is in the best interest of the person losing ADLs. Moreover, it is also in the best interest of the person(s) who are unknowingly becoming care providers. Providing proper long-term care support and services is the best course of action for the health of everyone in the family.
If you are a son, daughter, mother, father, or spouse – and you help a person who is older or who has a disability — you are a care provider too. While taking care of your loved one is important to you, it is just as important to take care of yourself and the rest of your family as well. For more insights and resources, I invite you to my podcast, Retirement Genius, where I discuss with friends and colleagues topics such as long-term care and how to best prepare for retirement.