We like to think of our parents and grandparents as the self-sufficient, independent, capable people we’ve always known them to be. But we often learn the hard way that this vision simply isn’t a reality. Worse, while we are building our careers and managing our own busy lives, we can miss the signs of change and mounting difficulties our aging relatives face. Add to that the tendency for those relatives to deny these changes are occurring, and it is no wonder we are caught by surprise at some of our relatives’ rapid decline.
One Meals-on-Wheels employee learned these lessons first hand and is now on a mission to help others help their relatives, before it’s too late. Reeling from a serious break-up, this employee, whom we’ll call Jane, was in need of family support. Fortunately, her grandmother, then 81, suggested she come and live with her. “My grandmother is very active, travels a lot, is very independent in her home,” said Jane. The plan was for Jane to live in a guest house on the property. She’d have her family’s love and support and still her privacy, and she could help them out around the house. She thought this would be a perfect arrangement. What she didn’t suspect was just how much help she’d be to her grandparents, in ways she hadn’t predicted.
Already in the first few weeks, Jane noticed things. Her grandmother had recently been diagnosed with Parkinson’s, but given her active lifestyle, the family thought she was managing it well. Jane discovered that her grandmother was on eleven different medications and not always taking them. She was also sleeping very late.
The more time passed, the more Jane realized how many health issues would have gone unnoticed if she were not living in such close proximity to her grandparents. “We started to really discover how dependent she was, although she didn’t say it,” said Jane. “It was little things like taking her to the doctor, taking her to the grocery store, making sure she was hydrated with water, watching her feel faint on a daily basis, dropping pills on the floor…”
The experience made Jane all the more appreciative of her work at Meals on Wheels. “I started really learning a lot from Meals on Wheels,” reflected Jane. “I don’t know how people do it, caretakers, unless they go through programs to look for warning signs.” Jane was convinced her grandparents would have suffered if she hadn’t been there to assist them. She knew she helped her grandparents through some difficult times, and that it wouldn’t have been possible if she didn’t live on site.
“I used to be really stressed out about it,” said Jane of all the responsibilities she took on when she became her grandparents’ main caretaker, “but now it’s just a rewarding feeling. I’m just really thankful and appreciative.” She acknowledged that moving in with your elders might not be the easy or the right choice for everyone, but she is hopeful that more San Diego adults will at least watch the seniors in their lives more keenly, ask more questions, and be alert for warning signs of decline, and she plans to help them do it.
Some of the warning signs include:
WHEN A SENIOR NEEDS CARE
Losses for an aging person are likely to occur as a natural course. Whether marked by emotional loss, such as the death of a spouse, or a physical loss, such as the ability to drive, the devastation can be overwhelming. Many hide symptoms of failing health or coping skills and denial is often a way of coping. It may be difficult for children or caregivers to clearly evaluate when additional help is needed.
Here are signs to look for:
- Unusual changes around the house
- Unpaid bills
- Burn marks on pots or kitchen countertops
- Unusual change in activity such as an unkept home or not dressing properly
- Not eating regularly and/or weight loss
- Increased falls or mishaps
- Difficulty finding words
- Social isolation
- Change in overall personality or behavior
Respecting individual privacy, autonomy and independence is crucial. Meals-on-Wheels Greater San Diego has information and resources available throughout San Diego County that support families and caregivers with age-related issues.
Please contact your local Service Center Manager for any assistance you may need.
Wynne Love is a freelance writer with a special love for seniors.