Seventh in a Series Detailing Our 100 Most Beneficial and Indispensable Lessons
by Kim Keller
Even in our darkest hour as a family, during our dad’s health ordeal and eventual death, we had a lot to be grateful for. Friends, family, even complete strangers held out their hands to us, by offering support, encouragement and treasured practical advice. Even now, six years later, we remain profoundly grateful.
After our dad’s death, Karen and I made a pact: we decided we should help empower other families dealing with serious illness and loss. And that’s how In Care of Dad was born. We named the site to honor our dad, but our cause is steeped in deep gratitude to all those people who were there for us during our trying journey.
In that spirit, here are ten more of the most important lessons we’ve learned:
- Ask Questions About Medication — We have seen both of our parents suffer from endless medication issues. In fact, medications have often been responsible for making our parents sick, instead of making them well. And we are not alone on this front. Now, each time our mom is prescribed a new medication, we ask the doctor, “How will this drug interact with her other medications?” And, “What are the side effects?” Here’s our list of medication questions.
- Ask Doctors To Help Persuade — Family members are often the least effective persuaders. It’s easy to ignore people you’ve known all your life. Doctors, however, as we discovered, are often the best people to call on to help you reason with your loved one. For example, after a long hospital stay, we tried to convince our dad that a few more weeks in rehab would be in his best interest. But, as you might imagine, all he wanted was to go home. He wouldn’t listen to us, so we decided to ask his doctor to step in and help us make the case. The doctor did and it worked. Third-party intervention can be the key to effective influence.
- Try To Involve Family Members — Set up regular family meetings (in person, over the phone, or even by email, if necessary) to keep everyone current and in the loop. It’s a good idea to share beforehand a list of duties that need to get accomplished, and then, at that meeting, ask various family members how they can contribute. It’s hard, but necessary, to accept the fact that not everyone is going to do it your way and that each member of the family has something different to offer.
- Carefully Dispense Medications — Do you need a more dependable way to deal with dispensing medications? Then consider an automatic pill dispenser. We recommend the Med-Time dispenser, with 28 compartments for pills and the like, so it can handle a variety of medication routines without the need for constant refilling. As the Med-Time website points out, taking the right meds on time is as important as what meds are being taken. The dispenser also has an easy-to-use timer system that’s adjustable for each routine. Here’s a link: Med-Time Automatic Pill Dispensers from epill.com.
- Read the Family Caregiver Handbook — This wonderful basic caregiver guidebook was created by the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services, Aging and Disability Services Administration. It is an easy-to-read guide filled with practical, everyday information.
- Make A Change — You know the old adage: “The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know.” We labored under that misconception for a long time, believing that all nursing homes were inherently bad and, therefore, even though our dad’s care was poor, we weren’t sure that moving him would make his situation any better. After all, change was not easy for him. But after one-too-many mistakes with his care, we decided it was finally necessary to make a switch. And we found out something important: Not all nursing homes are alike. Some are bad, it’s true, but some are, in fact, quite good. The move proved to be a considerable upgrade in Dad’s care and comfort. We were thoroughly relieved that we had made a good decision about moving him. So don’t hesitate if your parent’s situation is not good. Make the move!
- Reach Out For Advice — We found it valuable to talk through financial options with different professionals. We consulted with an eldercare lawyer, an accountant, and a financial planner. In our case, we had a dual problem: our father was critically ill and we figured he’d need long-term care, while at the same time our mother had a lot of living left to do. What would happen to her financial security if Dad’s long-term care proved exorbitant? As you can imagine, the situation left us with lots of questions, primarily among them: Could Mom lose her house? The discussions with financial professionals provided us with options and a certain peace of mind during an otherwise tumultuous time.
- Research Resources — An all-around useful resource is Eldercare Locator, which is a public service run by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration on Aging. It provides all types of senior service information, both national and local. Check out the agency website at eldercare.gov or give them a call at 800-677-1116.
- Be Kind To Yourself While Grieving — It takes time to heal. There is no way around the heartbreak of losing someone you love. For me, as time passed, it got worse before it got better. The sorrow and tears would come at the most unexpected times. Eventually, though, the aching pain subsides and you can breathe again. The pain never goes away, of course, it just takes on a different form, something you carry, something you live with. But in the early aftermath of losing a loved one, you must allow yourself to feel the pain, and then allow yourself to find peace and carry on.
- Take It One Thing At A Time — This became our mantra during Dad’s ordeal, during Mom’s stroke, and now at In Care of Dad. It’s easy to get overwhelmed, so it’s important to find a technique that works best for you. Here’s what I find most effective when I am overstressed with responsibilities: I make a list of everything I need to accomplish — both big and small — and then I break the tasks down into categories like: A) Needs to be done today; B) Needs to be done tomorrow; and C) Needs to be done sometime in the near future. Next, I take a hard look at the list, figure out what items I can realistically drop and what items I can delegate to someone else. The last step: I number what I’m going to do first, second, and third (A1, A2, A3, and so on). For all of those who’ve read 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People, this will be a familiar strategy. I find this system keeps me focused and significantly reduces my stress. Give it try! You’ll be amazed how effective it is.
Kim Keller is the Co-Founder of In Care of Dad. She lives and works in New York City.