When my dad died 16 years ago, one of the instructions he urged to his four children, "Take good care of mother." We did our best. As it became clear that mom wasn’t just absent-minded but was developing dementia, taking good care of her meant more than phoning or stopping by for coffee. As issues started coming up, we had to make decisions together. When should mom stop driving? Is she using the stove safely? Can she keep her condo clean? Is she taking her meds correctly? When do we need to consider moving mom into assisted living?
Facing such decisions can bring out old tensions and even tear families apart. We did not want that to happen to us. We wanted to care for mom well and work through the inevitable conflicts among us in a healthy way. Within two years of mom’s decade-long journey with dementia, we siblings made two decisions that proved to be of great help to mom and kept the four of us kids working together.
Hired a Senior Citizen Consultant
They go by different names, but the geriatric specialist we hired not only helped us think through the issues we would face as mom’s dementia progressed but also provided us with solid advice about how to get mom the help she needed. Our consultant gave us suggestions about home-health aides, assisted living facilities, and funding available for mom’s assistance. She knew the territory in ways that we did not, and she helped us navigate the challenges well.
Developed a Covenant regarding Mom’s Care
As mom’s care became increasingly complex, the four of us siblings sat down early on in mom's journey with dementia to develop a consensus that would guide the various decisions we made. While these are common sense ideas, the process of discussing them and agreeing to them helped unite us around mom's care and guided us as we made decisions for mom in the following years. Here are some examples from our covenant:
- We love mom and want what’s best for her.
- We want mom to be safe, comfortable, well-adjusted, and happy.
- We want healthy, loving relationships among the four of us for the long term. Though we will have disagreements from time to time, we will resolve them in a loving way.
- We want mom to use her assets for the best possible care for her (instead of trying to maximize inheritance for the four of us).
- We want mom to remain in her condo as long as she can safely live there.
- We will implement decisions regarding mom’s care only when we have consensus among the four of us, and we will develop clear plans for implementing those decisions including timetables.
- We want mom to participate to the degree she is able in decisions regarding her care/life as long as and as much as she is able.
- We discuss issues regarding mom’s care freely with our spouses.
- Mom has dementia, and it is getting worse.
As I look back over the past 10 years, I’m amazed that we siblings did as well as we did. I can easily imagine us infighting, unresolved disagreements, triangulation among the four of us, and lingering bitterness as we move into a future without mom. Instead, we can look back with thankfulness for mom’s life, satisfaction that we did the best we could for mom while she was alive, and gratitude that we still get along well with one another. Both the senior citizen consultant and the covenant for mom’s care helped bring about these positive outcomes. Dad’s call that the four of us take good care of mom helped too. And so did one more thing. Before mom developed dementia, she regularly called us four kids to get along.
I think we did okay, mom. Thanks for the advice!
Do you have experience caring for an aging parent? What have you found helpful?