Helping a Senior Loved One with Downsizing

Helping a Senior Loved One with Downsizing

The prospect of downsizing can be a difficult one for seniors facing the move to an assisted living facility. A lifetime of memories associated with possessions can be daunting to wade through for families and caregivers.

But, rest assured, there are ways to help ease the transition for your senior loved one.

Downsizing is an inevitable part of moving to a new residence: taking old clothes to Goodwill, throwing away that leaf blower that hasn’t worked in five years, and getting rid of all the things you’ve accumulated that your family no longer needs.

But, downsizing can be particularly wrenching for the elderly, who may find it overwhelming to think about letting go of the items they’ve gathered over a lifetime. If a senior loved one is faced with a move to assisted living where there may be less storage space, that clutter in the closet may turn into a stubborn roadblock — or even a justification to resist moving.

This can mean a tough conversation for family caregivers, who are usually the ones faced with confronting their parents about downsizing. Fortunately, there are strategies you can follow to make the process easier, even if a senior loved one has a more serious hoarding issue.

Does Your Senior Loved One Need to Downsize?

Getting rid of longtime possessions we’ve grown attached to isn’t easy for anyone, but for our elderly loved ones, it can feel like giving up cherished memories, especially if they are faced with leaving a long-term home on top of it all.

This isn’t just a matter of the occasional senior citizen not wanting to give up the mementos. In fact, it’s quite common. A recent study looked at survey data from 22,000 participants and found that about 30% of people over age 70 had done nothing to give away belongings over the past 12 months. Yet…more than half of the respondents in all age categories believed they had too many belongings. As an example, 56% of those aged 50 to 59 and 62% of those 70 to 79 reported having more things than they needed.

For these folks the problem isn’t denial, but rather, the extraordinary difficulty associated with giving up items that are so closely linked to their identities, their past, and their memories.

When Clutter Gets Out of Control

Sometimes it isn’t so easy to convince your loved one that they have too much stuff. If their collection of belongings is actually impairing their everyday functioning and threatening their health or that of others, they may be suffering from an elderly hoarding disorder.

It’s important to note that if you know of someone who is having trouble letting go of personal possessions and is distressed at the thought of discarding them, that alone may not constitute elderly hoarding behavior. However, if a person’s clutter is so extreme that their living space is unusable, unsanitary, or hazardous, or if they are exhibiting symptoms like self-neglect and social withdrawal, it may be time to consider whether they have Diogenes Syndrome (elderly hoarding disorder) and whether they should move into assisted living.

Tips for Talking to Your Parents about Downsizing

Whether you suspect your loved one has senior hoarding issues, or they simply have too much stuff for a small assisted living apartment, broaching the topic of downsizing can be a scary thought. You might be wondering, how can I ask mom and dad to give up so many memories they obviously cherish, and risk upsetting them?

Enlisting trusted friends and family to help your loved one clear their clutter can be an enormous help. Having others around to share memories with can make the process less painful, for one thing. It can also make it less overwhelming and time-consuming as seniors can easily be daunted by the size of the task, or feel physically incapable. Sometimes, though, the situation is so dire that professional help is warranted. Senior move managers can help the elderly downsize their possessions and are experts at helping with the transition into senior living.

The end result can be a hassle-free transition and a much lighter load.

Communicating With A Loved One Who Has Alzheimers

Communicating With A Loved One Who Has Alzheimers

How Do I Talk to My Loved One Who Has Alzheimer’s?

It’s indescribably painful to witness the deterioration of a loved one who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia. As the disease progresses, we see minor forgetfulness morph into severe impairment, eventually causing communication to become a problem. In some situations, a memory care facility may be a needed option for individuals.

Knowing how to communicate and connect with our loved ones who suffer from forms of cognitive impairment is important as the disease progresses.

How to Communicate With Someone with Alzheimer’s or Dementia

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, one in 10 Americans have a family member with Alzheimer’s, and one in three know someone with the disease. Since people are living longer, more and more Americans are suffering from memory disorders — which means every family is likely to be affected at some point.

Learning techniques about how to act and what to say to someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia can help families emotionally connect with their loved ones. As with any brain disorder, there are special approaches involved with communication.

You can’t be judgmental or critical to aging loved ones who suffer from memory impairment or dementia, and asking detailed questions is probably not the best idea. When all else fails, ask open-ended questions and keep the conversation going smoothly. Help your loved one feel comfortable as the human connection is the most powerful.

Listed below are some strategies to help you and your aging loved ones maintain a positive relationship, despite Alzheimer’s or dementia.

Ways to Act Around Someone With Alzheimer’s or Dementia

If you want to meaningfully connect with your loved one who suffers from memory impairment, you have to set the mood.

Here are some tips:

1) Avoid distractions. Create a comfortable ambiance that doesn’t have a lot of stimuli so that your loved one can focus all their mental energy on the conversation.

2) Be a good listener. Not your head and interact with your loved one’s conversation. If you don’t understand something, politely ask open-ended questions.

3) Don’t criticize. Be compassionate and do not try to correct your loved one if they are inaccurate. Feel free to go along with their delusions and misstatements to see where the conversation takes you.

4) Use a calm voice and warm tone. Don’t be condescending and don’t use heightened emotion. Speak clearly using a calm manner.

5) Use names. Avoid pronouns and refer to people by their names. Be sure to greet your loved one with their name.

6) Use nonverbal cues. Keep eye contact and smile around your loved one. Maintaining an inviting demeanor will help your loved one stay at ease, and comfortable body language can help your loved one recognize that you are someone familiar, even if they don’t recognize or remember exactly who you are.

What to Say to Say to Someone With Alzheimer’s

People who suffer from memory impairment have trouble expressing emotions and thoughts, and also have trouble understanding others. Even if you think your loved one has become a shell of a person and is no longer there — they are. You just have to figure out a different way to reach them and know what to say to someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia.

The Alzheimer’s Association provides several “do’s” and “don’ts” for effective communications:

DO

  • Accept the blame when something’s wrong (even if it’s a fantasy)
  • Agree with them or distract them to a different subject or activity
  • Allow plenty of time for comprehension…then triple it
  • Avoid insistence — try again later
  • Be cheerful, patient, and reassuring
  • Eliminate “but” from your vocabulary, substitute “nevertheless”
  • Give short, one sentence explanations
  • Go with the flow
  • Have patience
  • Leave the room, if necessary, to avoid confrontations
  • Practice 100% forgiveness
  • Repeat instructions of sentences exactly the same way
  • Respond to the feelings rather than the words
  • Speak clearly and naturally
  • Talk about one thing at a time

DON’T

  • Don’t argue
  • Don’t confront
  • Don’t question about recent memory
  • Don’t try to reason
  • Don’t remind them that they forget
  • Don’t take it personally

It’s also important to recognize what you are up against. Memory disorders continue to get worse with time, so your loved one will not improve; and you have to accept that. You need to have patience and make the conversation as pleasant as possible.

Remember to Be Patient

There is currently no cure for Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. The human brain is very complex and your loved one will have both bad days and good days. Learning to be patient with these behavioral variances is key. Knowing how to act around someone with Alzheimer’s or how to help someone with Alzheimer’s will only go so far.

Be kind and remember your loved one for their good times. Above all else, be loving and respectful, as they need you now more than ever.

To learn more about how to communicate effectively with a loved one with dementia, consider contacting the Eau Claire Aging & Disability Resource Center (ADRC) or visit their website at: Eau Claire County Dementia Coalition. The ADRC has a wealth of information about coping with dementia. They also offer dementia-related support groups that you can attend. The Classic actually hosts one of the groups on the 2nd Wednesday of each month. Click here for information about memory care in Eau Claire.

When Should You Move Your Parent to Memory Care?

When Should You Move Your Parent to Memory Care?

There could come a time when your parent with Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia will need more memory care than can be provided at home. During the middle and late stages of dementia, sometimes 24-hour supervision is required to ensure the person’s safety.  As dementia progresses further, round-the-clock care requirements become more intensive.

Making the decision to move a parent into a specialized memory care environment may be difficult, as it is tough to suddenly be faced with a decision that makes it feel like YOU are now in a parental role.  But it is important to consider whether or not it is possible to continue to provide the level of memory care needed in the person’s home.

The questions below, from the Alzheimer’s Association website, are ones to consider when determining if a move to residential memory care is a good option:
Is my mom or dad becoming unsafe in her or his current home? Is he/she getting lost in the neighborhood, or in the home itself?  Are you worried about the person wandering at night? Is crossing the street safely an issue?

Is the health of my parent, my own health, or the health of my other parent at risk?  This is a major consideration.  Caregiver stress can be deadly.  There are caregivers who actually die before their loved ones, because they are determined to do it all and once promised the person “they would never have to move to a home.”  Please consider that this is a situation neither party was thinking about when that promise was made.  You want to be able to be the daughter, or the son, or you want your other parent to be the wife, or the husband to the person with dementia. Being in the caregiver role can easily drain all energy from your rightful role.

Are my parent’s care needs beyond my physical abilities or the abilities of my other parent?  A doctor’s opinion might come in handy here, so that you, the son or daughter, have some professional backup for your own assessment of the situation.

Am I or is my other parent becoming a stressed, irritable and impatient caregiver?Staff members who work with persons with dementia are trained to not take things personally, to answer repeated questions patiently, and to empathize even in the midst of challenging situation. It is typically very difficult, especially at first, for family members to adjust to the changes in their loved one.

Am I neglecting work or family responsibilities in the process of caring for my mom or dad?  If you are not sure who you can talk to about any of the issues listed here, this, do not hesitate to call the Alzheimer’s Association’s 24-hour help line as you wrestle with this or any dementia-related issue:  1-800-272-3900.

Would the structure and social interaction at a care facility benefit my parent? Sometimes the person will flourish in an environment where there is more structure and interaction with others.  A lack of structure and routine is wearing and stressful for the person with dementia. Sometimes people adjust surprisingly quickly to a new environment, because they have less time on their own in which to become confused about what should happen next.  Others take longer to get used to a new routine.  Most people seem to settle in within 3-4 weeks.

Even if you plan ahead for a move, making this transition to a memory care facility can be incredibly stressful.  You may have an abundance of conflicting emotions.  You may feel relieved and guilty at the same time. These feelings are common. Regardless of where you choose to have the person cared for, it’s good to keep your focus on making sure your parent’s needs are well met.
Please see http://www.alz.org/care/alzheimers-dementia-residential-facilities.asp for additional information.

Things You Should Do and Things You Shouldn’t Do When Moving Your Loved One to Memory Care

Things You Should Do and Things You Shouldn’t Do When Moving Your Loved One to Memory Care

There are many different ways that families handle communicating with their loved one about a move to memory care. The most successful plan will be designed to meet your loved one’s needs. Some family members don’t tell the person they are going to move, knowing this could create undue anxiety. Other families are completely honest with their loved one about the need for “more care” and they have their loved one actively participate in their move. However you decide to handle the communication, make sure that all family members are on the same page and keep in mind the following guidelines:

DON’T keep reminding your loved one they are moving if it makes them anxious. You might try telling them once, in a matter of fact manner, to see how they process things. If it stresses them out to talk about a move, don’t keep bringing it up.

DO reassure the person that he/she will be getting more help. Because of their dementia, they may bring up the same concerns or fears over and over. Let the person voice their concerns, and be understanding in your replies. For example, “I can see why you’re worried about that. We’ll figure it out.”

DON’T pull your loved one into the details of the planning and packing process. Don’t ask them to decide what to bring and what to leave behind. With memory loss, decision making and any process with multiple steps will present challenges. If you don’t already know which objects or knick-knacks are most important to your loved one, spend time observing what things around their home they use and enjoy on a regular basis.

DO consider working with a move manager. A great example comes from a family who had one daughter take mom out for a morning of shopping followed by lunch, while the other daughter was assisting the move manager. The move manager set up the new apartment to look almost identical to the room in the old house where mom spent most of her time. When they brought mom into her new apartment, she knew something was different, but she felt very much at home right away.

DON’T overpack. Memory care apartments are small for a reason — large spaces with lots of “stuff” can be overwhelming and anxiety-inducing for people with memory loss. A smaller space with a manageable amount of items in it eases the mind. Again, pay attention to what your loved one actually uses throughout the day and bring just what he or she needs. If your loved one misses something, you can always bring it later. A person with dementia often picks something up, puts it down, and then forgets where it is. Save yourself the heartache of a missing wallet or priceless family heirloom by not bringing these types of items to the new memory care apartment.

DON’T get started too late in the day. Try to get the move done so that your loved one is settled in their new apartment by 2 or 3 p.m. at the latest. As the day progresses, we all get tired, but a person with dementia will not cope as well as the rest of us. Enlist more moving help if you need the extra hands to be finished by 2 p.m. — it will make the transition smoother.

DO remember that people usually adjust quite well to their new environment. Remember, though, that it could take around 2-4 weeks to adjust to their new community. Be reassured in knowing the staff in the memory care facility are there to help your loved one settle into a comfortable routine. Because the new environment (not only the apartment but also the programming and the structure of the day) is designed to fit the needs of a person with dementia care, you will start to notice your family member be more at ease than they were before the move. When your focus returns to your relationship with your loved one, rather than the details of day to day caregiving, you will also be more content, knowing you have made the right decision.

Siblings: Stop Fighting over Senior Care for Your Parents

Siblings: Stop Fighting over Senior Care for Your Parents

Does this family scenario sound familiar? An ever-helpful, younger sibling lives a short distance from her elderly parents and for quite a while now has been spending an increasing amount of time as caregiver for her mother and father. An older sister lives several states away and is for the most part a “non-participant” in her parents care — both physically and psychologically. The older sister often has feelings of guilt for being so removed from her family, but at the same time, neither her parents or her sister typically ask for any help. In the rare instances when the younger sister reaches out, it doesn’t take long for them to disagree on how a certain situation should be handled.

It can be difficult for families who have never gotten along to make decisions together, especially when there are multiple siblings with varying beliefs, caregiving styles, and personalities. A recent article in Forbes magazine, states that 61% of sibling caregivers feel they don’t get the support they need from their siblings. Watching our parents decline can make us more emotional, irrational, and volatile. And…there’s something else: it can often remind us that we’re next in line.

“When siblings squabble over who will care for mom or dad, or refuse to help one another with caregiving tasks, the problem often isn’t about the caregiving itself, but rather conflicts and power struggles that may have existed since childhood.”

What Siblings Disagree Over

Why the sibling strife? You name it!

Caregiving Arrangements
Live-in, live out, or family help? Should technology be utilized to remind parents to take their medications and alert you if they don’t? Who will dispense medications, interview caregivers, or oversee the whole process?

Disparities and Inequities

Is each sibling pulling his or her own weight (money, tasks, and/or time)? Is the hometown child, or daughter saddled with more responsibility and resentful of out-of-town siblings?

Family Possessions
Who gets what when a parent downsizes or moves or after a death?

Finances and Money
How should the money be spent? Will there be expenses over caregiving and who handles finances if mom or dad is no longer oversee things?

Independence and Safety
Who will think about asking the parent to give up those car keys if it becomes necessary? Who will ensure fall prevention, especially if the parent is living alone?

Living Arrangements
Should dad stay in the family home or is too isolating, unrealistic, or unsafe? If not, where should he go?

Medical Decisions
Who makes sensitive decisions when there are differences of opinion about the end of life or treatment?

Ways to Take Action to Avoid Conflict

To head off conflict down the road, it’s important, while the initial dialogue can be difficult, for siblings to try to have open conversation early on about their roles, even though their parents are still younger and/or healthier.

It’s quite typical for one sibling to handle emotional and lifestyle issues, while the other can be in charge of medical decisions. Financial decisions can go either way. Sometimes one sibling takes the lead for those concerns, while with other families, it’s a joint decision.

Use the following strategies if you’re trying to stop an ongoing struggle with siblings over senior care:

Be empathetic. Be understanding of your siblings’ circumstances, of your parents’, and of your own. It’s a stressful time for everyone.

Divvy up responsibilities according to each person’s strengths. Let them choose what they want to tackle, e.g. communicating with doctors, paying bills online, or researching housing options.

Don’t expect a miracle! If your sister was always selfish, she may not change. That doesn’t mean you can’t try to get her to pitch in.

Hold your tongue. How important is it if you and your brother don’t do everything the same way? Unless it’s a safety issue, button up!

Just ask! Have your parents participate in decision-making, or at least let them weigh in, if it’s realistic.

Keep everyone in the loop. There are now websites that let family members collect all the information in one place (from caregiving and medical to tasks that need to get done) and log in any time. Convene regular family conferences, preferably in person, or otherwise via conference calls, Facetime® or Skype®.

Spell out your needs. Maybe a sibling should know what you need, but maybe they have no clue. Perhaps they think you don’t want help.

Time Out! If an issue becomes contentious, take a break, calm yourself, then address the topic at another time. Apologize if it’s warranted.

Vent appropriately. Visit a caregiving forum or website, learn how others have handled tough situations. Call a friend. See a therapist or talk to clergy. Just know that there are professionals available to help families untangle issues relating to aging parents and help all parties make decisions.