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Some seniors, particularly those in the early stages of dementia, may have a hard time trusting anyone other than the family member they rely on most. Yet being solely responsible for an elder’s care can quickly become a heavy burden for that family caregiver — no matter how loving and committed he or she may be. Reliance on a single caregiver isn’t in the senior’s best interests either, since it can lead to isolation and in some cases, may even increase the risk of elder abuse.
We all benefit from having strong social connections and varied activities, and seniors are no exception. But as anyone who has cared for an anxious or disoriented senior can attest, widening the circle of care can be very difficult. Whether you need to share some financial responsibilities with another family member or transfer personal care duties to an in-home caregiver, the transition will take time and patience. Here’s how to get started.
- Involve other family members first. Before hiring a caregiver, enlist other family members to help with some of the responsibilities your senior currently entrusts to you. You might ask a sibling to accompany you and your parent to doctor visits or sit down with you when it’s time to pay bills. Eventually, that family member can take over those responsibilities entirely. If you parent still feels anxious, assure her that you’ll continue to be involved, just not as directly as before.
- Choose the right caregiver. When you’re ready to hire in-home care, work with a reputable company to identify a compassionate caregiver who’ll take the time to build a relationship with your parent. The Alzheimer’s Association notes that “a person with dementia can sense a care provider’s lack of interest or impatience,” so be sure to hire someone who is genuinely interested in supporting your parent’s social relationships and activities.
- Transition slowly. After finding a qualified caregiver, ask her to stop by to meet your parent. Keep the first visit short and social, and plan to be present the entire time. At first, your caregiver might only come a few hours each day in the first week.. You can gradually increase over time, until you reach the level of help your parent requires.
- Save sensitive issues for last. During the early weeks, as your parent is still getting to know the caregiver, keep the focus on social activities and companionship. Slowly introduce additional responsibilities, starting with less personal tasks like food preparation, light cleaning, or laundry, and then build to daily needs like hygiene and dressing.
- Share your feelings. If your senior continues to resist outside care, it may help to talk about the stress you feel as the sole caregiver. Sharing your feelings allows your parent to feel empathy for you and to contribute to her own care by accepting help. Feeling needed and involved, rather than helpless, is an important element of your parent’s emotional health.
Though the process may be slower than you’d like, gradually increasing your parent’s trusted support network will serve you both well in the long run.