Monday, August 6, 2012
10 ideas for reducing stress when looking after an aging parent
Posted by Lynne Butler
The steps that are against your parent's wishes are the most stressful of all. And not just for you. Think about what it must feel like to be the parent in these situations. Your parent may be distressed, anxious or disoriented, as well as somewhat miffed at you for not doing what you're told.
Here are 10 ideas for keeping your parent's anxiety - as well as your own - to a minimum:
1. Involve your parent in the decision-making process to the extent that he or she can handle. This level of involvement is different for everyone. While your parent might not be able to handle the documentation and financial transactions that are part of the sale of a home, he or she may still be perfectly capable of deciding which personal items in the home he or she wants to keep.
2. Keep your parent and your siblings informed as to steps that you have taken on your parent's behalf. Proactively giving out information is going to prevent you from getting telephone calls and email messages constantly and having to repeat the same information to several people. For example, if you had said that you would contact an estate-planning lawyer on behalf of your parent, let your siblings know that you've set up an appointment. As your parent is the focus of the situation, you should keep him or her up to date personally if at all possible.
3. Find efficient ways to communicate with your family as a group. Set up a distribution list on your email that includes all immediate family members so that you can send one message to all of them with one click. Or set up a Facebook page or web page for your family so that you can post information that they can access when they have time. If you don't want to use your computer as your main means of communication, set up a telephone-tree arrangement in which you ask each person you call to call two or three others and pass your message along.
4. While you are dealing with your parent, either privately or in the company of advisors or family members, be professional and calm. If you are an emotional wreck, your distress will rub off on your parent. This will only make things worse, as your parent could be frightened about matters if you cry or break down every time estate planning or medical appointments are mentioned. He or she will wonder what terribly upsetting information you're hiding. If your parent is confused on any details, your distress will cause him or her to give the most negative interpretation possible to the issue.
5. If staying calm is impossible, you need to take a break. If there is nobody in your family who can help you with caring for your parents, even if it's only for a weekend, you might look into hiring a caregiver for a portion of each day, or for a certain day of each week. Also consider other living arrangements for your parent that offer more support. If you find that you are always exhausted, that you are catching numerous colds each year, or that you are depressed, it could be that you are over-doing it and need some relief.
6. If you are acting on behalf of your parent on financial matters, make sure that anyone who becomes involved, such as appraisers, realtors, accountants, bankers and lawyers, know that they should contact you directly and not your parent. Give each person a copy of the document that gives you legal authority. This isn't so that you can hide things from your parent; this is so that your parent doesn't have strangers calling him or her to ask private financial information or to talk about unknown transactions. If your parent were capable of handling that situation, you wouldn't be involved in the first place.
7. If your parent asks you questions, answer them. Help your parent undestand what you are doing and why you are doing it. When he or she wants to see documents, even if it's for the tenth time, show the documents. Write down information such as upcoming appointments on a calendar and display it prominently, such as on the front of the fridge where you parent will find it.
8. Make sure that bank statements, court documents, receipts and correspondence are kept in an orderly, accessible place. Chaos isn't helpful.
9. Listen to your parent if he or she wants to talk about his or her wishes. This could be wishes about living arrangements, or about distribution under your parent's will, or even about what your parent wants to do next week. You may not always be able to carry out those wishes, but you should still know what your parent would like to see happen. Having someone listen carefully and take your parent seriously can have a very soothing effect. If you say something like "Why should I listen? You're only going to forget what you said and tell me again tomorrow", you are only going to upset your parent and increase everyone's stress level.
10. Keep up with the requirements of your legal authority to act on behalf of your parent. For example, if you are going to be required to give a legal accounting of the finances one day, try to keep current with the ledgers and books. Trying to put together a couple of years' worth of financial records on a deadline is unpleasant and stressful. Look into getting book-keeping software that will keep things straight for you.