Soothing the everyday path for elderly family members

How do you know your elderly parent or parents are in need of more help than you can offer? When do you worry that their safety is at risk?

Elderly hand (illustrative) (photo credit: PIXABAY)
Elderly hand (illustrative)
(photo credit: PIXABAY)
With the coronavirus ranging around us and constant warnings to protect our elderly relatives, we can lose focus of everyday requirements for the well-being of our aged family members.
Old age has many titles attributed to it, from “The Third Age” to ‘The Golden Age.” I have heard elderly people decry the latter, saying it should be called “The Rusty Age,” as that more aptly describes how they feel. However, many people age well and stay independent for a very long time. Others need a little help and still others find themselves depending more and more on outside help in order to stay safe, and ironically, maintain independence.
How do you know your elderly parent or parents are in need of more help than you can offer? When do you worry that their safety is at risk? Getting help for an elderly parent or relative is no mean feat. Bureaucracy, paperwork, agencies, doctors, resistance – these are just a few issues with which you have to deal.
For some people, the answer to changing needs is a retirement home. But for the majority, staying in their own home is the preferred option. So how do you stay in your home but get the help and security that you need? How do you get your independent-minded parent to agree?
Some people are more than happy to get help. They recognize the need and see the benefits and the advantages of staying in their own home. Yet for many elderly parents, the idea of having a stranger in the house can be daunting. They fear the lack of privacy, losing their independence and sense of self-worth. They may be concerned about the expense. Or they may genuinely not understand what all the fuss is about. After all, they are “doing fine.”
Often the signs that your parent needs more help come on gradually. Your dad needs reminders to take medications more and more frequently. Your mum stops cooking. You notice that your parent is losing weight or he/she neglects personal hygiene. He/she neglects household cleaning and maintenance, has difficulty shopping. Doctors appointments are missed, forgotten or not made, or the person you care about is becoming socially isolated.
There are two paths for getting help. If your parent needs just a few hours a week by a local Israeli helper, you can employ someone privately or apply to Bituach Leumi for assistance. Bituach Leumi can be used for hours of help, money, or services. Check the BL website regarding eligibility. Eligibility is based on function (Activities of Daily Living) and income. It also varies according to age and other factors. The second track is for a full-time foreign worker, commonly known in Israel as a “Philipini,” even though the majority of foreign workers today do not come from the Philippines. This is done through the Interior Ministry.
Bituach Leumi hours can also be used to supplement the payment to a foreign worker. This can offset a percentage of the overall cost of having a foreign worker.
Convincing your parents to accept assistance can be a process. It can take time, a lot of time. Sometimes weeks, sometimes months. There are instances where the help must be immediate – for example after a fall or a stroke – but often the decline is gradual.
So how can you ease the process?
Be patient and keep your finger on the pulse. It is wise to start discussing the difficulties with your parent when you begin to notice that the decline is affecting their health or safety. If your parent has dementia, his or her understanding of the need for help and the ensuing discussion will be very different than for someone who needs physical assistance only.
Your parent may need reassurance that you will still be very much in their lives. The help will not replace your relationship with your parent but rather enhance it by removing some of the stress.
Get all family members on board. Siblings may differ in what they see as the needs of the parent. This is especially true if one of the siblings lives overseas or in another city and is not involved in the day-to-day care of the parent.
If there is resistance, it is often a good idea to start by telling your parent that the care is temporary, until they get stronger, healthier, etc., or point out that it is not a “Catholic wedding,” as they say in Hebrew. In other words, if it does not work, there is an out.
Let your parent be part of the process where possible. It may be in only a small way, but remember, with all the frailties, mental or physical, that your parents may be experiencing, they are still your parents. They are still adults who have made their own decisions for many years, longer than you have been around!
Choose a recruitment agency. Some are more helpful than others, but a good agency will walk you through the process. The agency must be registered with the government. Some agencies are for workers from Bituach Leumi (Israeli) and some agencies are for foreign workers.
We have a responsibility to take care of our parents and the elderly in society. There are ways of easing their burden. Let’s be part of ensuring the years are indeed golden for the people we love.
The writer is a geriatric social worker.