CAREGIVING CORNER: When Out-of-Town Relatives Visit
By Pati Bedwell, Elder Care Coordinator
Well, caregivers, we made it through the holidays and are starting a new year. Hopefully the holidays have been good to you and your loved one.
Many of us have had family members visiting during the holiday season. It’s great to have them close and, for caregivers, it’s nice to have a little bit of a break. Sometimes, though, visiting family members can bring with them new sets of worries and doubts for caregivers.
For visiting family members, the holidays are a time to visit and a time for them to really check on how mom or dad is doing, and often, because they see them so infrequently, they can be surprised by the decline they see in their loved one. Keep in mind, most out-of-town family members talk to their loved ones regularly and they believe they really do have a handle on how mom and dad are doing. They may not realize that it’s easy for someone with cognitive impairment to hold things together for a 15-minute phone call, especially early in the disease process. As a result, when they come in for a visit and see that mom can no longer do the simple tasks she’s always done, they go into “fix-it” mode and start spouting all sorts of advice or how to do things better, how to handle the finances, and how to keep mom or dad clean and well groomed.
For the primary caregiver, this can be tough. Often the first reaction is one of anger. The caregiver is angry that their siblings think they are falling short of their caregiving responsibilities and are offended by the idea that their siblings act as though they could be doing a better job. Where were they when help was needed? Did they miss a day’s work to take mom to the doctor or because the paid caregiver didn’t show up for their shift? No, they did not! Although it’s easy to feel this way, if you think about it, it’s probably not how you really feel. But it’s human nature to defend ourselves when we think we are being criticized. What may be helpful is putting yourself in the shoes of the visiting family member and asking yourself if you did everything you could to prepare them for their visit?
Try to consider things from your visiting family’s point of view. They may never have seen mom or dad during Sundowner’s time. Do you remember how scary it was the first time you argued with your loved one about taking a bath or changing into clean clothes? I’ll bet one of the first things you did afterwards was try to come up with a plan for the next time that task needs to be done. Well, it’s the same for your out-of-town family members. This visit may be their moment of realization that the parent they knew and always counted on really and truly does have dementia, so they react in the same way you did – they come up with a plan and ideas for how to handle things. They probably mean no offense to you or what you’ve been doing – they’re just trying to grasp the situation and help, too.
As caregivers, that’s what we do – we try to help the situation. So, what can we do to help the situation?
One thing I think every caregiver should do before family visits is to talk to the visitors about your loved one. Bring them up to speed. Tell them about your loved one's decline. Tell them about changes in your loved one's abilities. Let them know what to expect when they visit.
Then, most importantly, ask them to set aside some time with you to talk about the time they spent with mom or dad. After their visit, they may have ideas that could help you. Remember, sometimes someone who is not in the home on a daily basis can spot things you may be too close to see. This is a great time to brainstorm with your family about issues and solutions. Keeping the out-of-town visitors in the loop on what’s going on can go a long way to help families stay on the same page and prevent unnecessary conflicts. Caregiving is a tough road to travel. It's always easier if you're not traveling by yourself.
If you have any questions about caring for elderly loved ones, please give our office a call at (615) 824-2571.