Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Reality Checklist

This week, we're beginning a series of posts on gathering information to plan and prepare for parentcare. The first area of information that we identified last week was evaluating your parent's physical--and I'll add here--mental and spiritual status.

You may want to gather information when you first notice something has changed. Your normally even-tempered father's been irritable on the phone. He repeats things, complains. You've noticed at your Mom's house that the house is unusually disorganized--dishes in the sink, wash undone, a layer of dust on tabletops. Your parent’s behavior and temperament have shifted slightly, like a blurry photograph. Your instincts kick in. Something’s just not right. It may be the first time you realize that your parent is aging. And with a hand squeezing your stomach, you also realize that you are miles away. Part of that tension in your stomach may be the certainty that you will have to face caregiving when you and your parent are not on the best of terms. A lot of the worry comes from realizing that you don't know enough about your parent's day-to-day living.

Even if you are well along in your caregiving journey, you will need to establish an objective base line against which you can compare your parent's progress or decline. Then you can easily recheck every few weeks or months to see if anything in your parent's care routine needs to change. Remember that nothing is set in stone. Regular status checks help you to keep your information up-to-date, so you can arrange for proper care at the proper time.

You need The Reality Checklist. The Checklist contains a simple set of questions that cover the five major areas of a person's well-being: physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and social. It helps you to gather facts as well as impressions. If you are to help your parent, you must be able to identify and communicate in concrete terms what has changed, what your parent can no longer do, physical symptoms, and what's not working in your parent's care.

· Don’t wait for a crisis, a fall, an illness, an accident. Honor your instincts. If you think your parent’s circumstances are changing, they probably are.
· Gather specific information about your parent. You may feel your father is depressed, but what behavior leads you to this conclusion? Has he lost touch with friends, cannot leave the house? Be as specific as you can.
. Constructing a picture now of your parent’s life will help you when you begin to look for ways to care for him.

Use The Checklist, then go on to...

. Confirm your own observations and impressions with others. Check with your siblings, other family members, neighbors, friends with whom your parent is close.
· After putting as many facts together as you can, talk with your parent. Ask him questions about how he’s getting along, what difficulties he may be having.
. Begin to ask “what if?” What if my parent will not be able to drive soon? What if she’ll need a housecleaner to help with the house? With each question, begin to think about the kind of services that might be needed.
. Consult the resources offered on the Parentcare 101 website to help you understand your parent's status and to make decisions.

With the Checklist in hand, you have a way to evaluate how your parent's doing. You have books, organizations and websites to consult for more information. You have health professionals, friends and relatives who can support you. You're doing great!

Blessings on your caregiving.

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