What do we call folks squeezed in the middle of raising children, running a household, holding down a job, and concerned about aging parents? That’s right – the aptly named sandwich generation. But when should we actually become worried about mom or dad? The answer to this question is not determined by age but rather by function. What is it that mom or dad are unable to do for themselves or their home that is detrimental to their wellbeing? Here are some vital tips from Lise LaPointe Jameson LCSW, a clinical social worker and Executive Director of At Home in Greenwich Inc., to help determine if our parents may need more help and how to proceed.
NOTICE THE SMALL CHANGES
Our job as adult children is to pick up our heads from child rearing, press the pause button on the job, and notice the small changes that may take place as our parents age. For me, I realized my grandmother needed more help when I dropped her off at her home after a family dinner and noticed crumbs covering her kitchen counters. My grandmother, or Mémère as we called her, never left a crumb unretrieved on a surface of her home – EVER. That was the first of many changes I saw in Mémère as she aged and it informed me to be vigilant to her new needs.
As a social worker, I do my best work at a member’s kitchen table. Let me share what I notice: Is there a pile of unopened mail? Maybe bills are not paid? Does the fridge (ask permission to take a peek) contain fresh food, nothing expired, and evidence that cooking and eating is happening? Is medication set aside in various cups and saucers with no schedule clearly defined of when to take them? Do you notice dings and scrapes on the outside of the car? Changes in habits and everyday rhythms should prompt questions and encourage conversations. The goal is to communicate, find common ground, and search for short-term and long-term solutions.
START THE CONVERSATION WITH YOUR PARENTS
What do these conversations sound like? They could be the start of a transition from being cared for by someone and caring for someone. On one end of the spectrum, parents accustomed to ruling with an iron fist are not going to take kindly to inquisitive questions. On the other end, a parent may be grateful for the concern, attention, and acknowledgment that they too have some challenges. Open and honest communication can pave the way for additional support without the feeling of intrusiveness. In a perfect world, both parent and child will recognize the parent’s needs and explore a solution together. But the world – and families – are messy which could mean one party recognizes concerns and the other is not open to discussion or problem solving. Many families vacillate between these two extremes. So, what are loving adult children to do?
NAVIGATE THE CONVERSATION WITH CAUTION
Navigate with caution. Focus on safety and enhancing abilities. These conversations should occur at a calm time and be well thought out. Ask yourself, should these conversations happen around the kitchen table or in a local diner? Who else should be part of the conversation? If there has been a drastic change in ability to care for oneself, the place to start is with the primary care doctor. Is there a medical condition causing decreased ability? Has depression been ruled out? Is loss of vision or hearing the explanation? We can really get into the weeds with this question. Is it simply too much effort to stand at the stove and cook a meal? Maybe the answer is home delivered meals or store-bought prepared meals. Or are fresh eyes needed to evaluate the situation? It can be difficult to sort through a situation when we are so close to it, which is why out of town families may notice details that are lost to local family members. Many families and older adults entrust a professional outside the family to evaluate and offer creative solutions amenable to all. Finding solutions will improve everyone’s mental and physical wellbeing.
ASSEMBLE THE RIGHT TEAM TO HELP
I always say that growing older is a team sport and we need our team in place as we age. People that know and care about us can help us navigate growing older. Members of your team should include the primary care physician, other family members, your health care representative, a local friend or neighbor, and professionals that work in the aging field. Consider the Council on Aging, Area Agency on Aging, Human Service Departments, and my favorite because I represent one, an aging in place nonprofit. As an organization, we focus on providing social connections and opportunities, trusted vendor referrals to offer hands on personal care or home repairs. We drive members to doctor appointments. As a social worker, I consult with families and evaluate needs to offer a personalized and cost-effective way to age in our community. Our goals are laser-focused around safety and quality of life.
Help is available. You may find it piecemeal or all under one roof. It is possible to support your parents to thrive and grow old in their cherished neighborhoods, but it requires an open mind, quality conversation, and acceptance of a few helping hands.
Lise LaPointe Jameson LCSW is a clinical social worker and Executive Director of At Home in Greenwich Inc., a nonprofit membership organization whose mission is to enable older Greenwich residents to age in place confidently. At Home in Greenwich is in its 15th year of operation offering stimulating social and educational programs that create ways to connect with a fun group of older adults in Greenwich. At Home also provides a safety net should a member need a referral for a home repair, personal assistance, or professional consultation. Contact us at (203)-422-2342 or athomeingreenwich.org.