Help seniors build a support network

I had been teaching for about 10 years before I had my own children, yet my training for true child care was woefully inadequate when my wife and I brought our first child home from the hospital.

While my wife felt much the same for the first few weeks, her on-the-job-training quickly gave her a set of skills that clearly benefited our second and third born children.

She had a support network of our parents, other relatives, friends and an infinite supply of books and magazine articles to offer her suggestions and tips, some welcomed, others, not so much.

Me? I simply followed her lead at the times that full-time childcare was my responsibility, times I might add that were few and far between due to my work schedule and her understanding of the gap between my intentions and my competence.

Much like child care, the most common level of elder care is untrained and unprepared for the task. In most cases, the initial provider of elder care is a spouse. A spouse whose health or mental condition is deteriorating is where the rubber meets the road in the marriage vow of “for better or for worse.”

While the necessity of care can be initiated by a catastrophic event – a heart attack, stroke or debilitating disease – more commonly it is a progression of time and a gradual decline of independence.

Again, like that early experience in childcare, there is plenty of time for on-the-job-training in situations where changes are gradual.

To some extent, the heart of the elder care system is dependent upon the majority of seniors supporting themselves for as long as possible, and to that end, there are many community services provided to assist in this matter.

The adult children of seniors must recognize that while caring for each other will be viewed as a natural progression for their parents, it is not easy, either emotionally or physically to do so. Helping them understand and develop a support network of family, friends and community resources is an important part of providing them with the options from which they can choose those that best meet their needs for independence, but also for competent care.

It is important to remember that there are very different levels of care needed at times and, thus, different levels of expertise necessary for the caregiver.  An aging spouse can easily become overwhelmed with the requirements of 24/7 care, again, both emotionally and physically, though few will admit to it or act on it.  The result is that the health of both can be put at risk or compromised.

The first line of support in the health care business is the family doctor. My advice to adult children whose parents may be starting down the road of dependence is to attend doctor’s appointments with parents and ask what resources are available and how they can be accessed if necessary.

The current generation of seniors does not necessarily advocate for themselves and the greatest support we can offer them is a list of services for whom their requests for help are not an imposition, but the purpose of their work.

Understanding all of the public and private services available is essential to building the kind of network to support a parent who suddenly finds herself or himself as the primary caregiver to a spouse.

This is the first, but certainly not the last level of support that children can offer their aging parents.


Graham Hookey is

an education and

parenting writer