When life changes for an older person, there is an inevitable impact on the wider family group. Change can happen gradually over time e.g. onset of dementia or physical ailments, or it can come out of the blue, e.g. loss of a partner, a health issue, an accident or some other event. Whatever the trigger, the new circumstances will almost certainly require an increase in care and support for the older person. When it comes to those we love, it is vital that as a family, we can work together to support not only our elderly relative, but also each other, as we navigate this new territory. In some cases, responsibility for this care can fall to one or two family members… perhaps because they’ve always been the ones to take charge or because they live close by. In the short term this might work, but in the long-term this approach is not without its problems.
Ideally, sharing the care is the best way to respond. While this might sound straightforward and obvious, it is not always easy to put into practice. All families are different. They vary in size, in proximity to their elderly loved ones, in how well they get on and in how they respond to difficulties. Being there for our parents/relatives in their golden years, through the good times and the bad, means working together as a team, to give them the loving care they need and deserve. Everyone has a part to play.
Here are some things to consider when the need to Share the Care arises for your family:
One of the biggest challenges might be in getting clarity around what is needed by the older person, as a result of these changed circumstances. Practical needs are often the easiest to identify eg eating, dressing, personal care, shopping, appointments etc. Other needs such as psychological or emotional needs may not be so obvious or easy to address. Formerly independent and active people can find it difficult to ask for help, even from immediate family, so working out what is needed and wanted, is an important first step. The extent of needs will be different for each person and their family. They won’t remain static, so becoming aware of, and responding to changing needs will be an ongoing process.
Once it becomes clear what is required to support and care for the older person, there needs to be a conversation about how best the whole family can meet those needs. Sharing the care and agreeing responsibilities might sometimes involve a difficult or uncomfortable conversation. Some family members are in a better position than others to provide care/support, some are happy to leave things to everyone else, some might live so far away that they feel they cannot make a meaningful contribution.
However, as parents/relatives age and the need for extra support increases, it can be enormously beneficial if all family members can contribute in some way, whatever their circumstances, to the care of their elderly loved one(s). A phone call or letter might be as meaningful as a lift to a medical appointment. This ‘Share the Care’ conversation is not a one-off, but rather an on-going conversation that helps family members support each other, as they in turn support their loved ones. In some cases, the team of care might need to extend beyond the immediate family to the wider family circle and perhaps even to friends and neighbours.
Life is busy for everyone. Even with the best of intentions, it can be difficult to keep everyone in the loop and up to speed with what’s happening within the family network. It can be easy to lose track of who’s doing what, where, when and how! Regular, clear and honest communication is necessary for a care program to work effectively, for the whole family. Knowing that everyone is on track and that our loved one’s needs are being consistently met, gives everyone peace of mind.
They say it takes a village to raise a child. A similar sentiment could be expressed for the care our elders deserve in their later years. At Grandpal, we are here to help families like yours, as you focus on the wellbeing of your older relatives. By offering tools like the Grandpal app, which aims to address some of the challenges outlined above, and services like visits from our friendly Grandpal volunteers, our hope is to make life easier for you and your family. We can all share the care and ensure a more satisfying quality of life for our older generations.
You can join the waitlist for Grandpal here.