Friday, January 23, 2009

Where The Journey Takes You Next

Most likely you know someone, maybe it is even you, who has moved from a fairly spacious home to a room-sized home. There are many reasons for moves like this, and happily, there are a lot of good choices about where that room-sized home is located. Today, I’m thinking about the process itself of making that decision, about the many layers of decisions and the emotions that go with them.

I met a couple who live in Asia. His dad lives here and recently it became clear that the father’s needs for care are growing. The couple came to spend a month to assess the situation and be there as the father underwent some serious surgery. Being a long distance caregiver is no easy task. In that month they, with him, had to work through one of the hardest realities around. Dad could not stay by himself in the home he has had for most of his life. While he will still have plenty of independence when he recovers from the surgery, the extent of his illness is such that he is at some risk of falling, for example. Adding up what it would take to transform his home, hire caregivers, and build in enough safeguards, the son concluded it would make more sense, both financially and emotionally, for Dad to be part of an assisted living community. Dad initially had other ideas, but over the course of those weeks came to accept the plan. Needless to say, there were plenty of shouts and tears along the way.

One of the most perplexing and difficult parts of such a caregiving decision is the idea of moving from a two- or three-bedroom home to a 300 square foot room. How on earth does one envision such a thing? It is made all the more challenging when the individual needs an adjustable bed, a power wheelchair, a reclining lift chair. Those three things alone could already occupy nearly half that space. What kind of desk, bookcase, table? Would a lap desk help? And, what to do with all those treasures amassed over a lifetime? All of this packed into a month besides! It is a wonder anyone makes it successfully through such transitions.

Yet, these transitions are happening every day in millions of families. Some leave misery in their wake, of course. I am so curious about the large percentage of folks that do manage that journey to the next place, literally, with some grace. While every individual and his/her family approach these decisions differently, there seem to be a few consistent themes for the successful transitions.

Recognize the emotional part of the decision up front. Of course, you will need to bring reason to the table in vast amounts. But underestimating the emotional impact on you and your family can only make a difficult situation worse.

Do a lot of homework. The couple I mention above did lots of internet research before they came here for their month stay. By the time they arrived, they had an idea of options for assisted living facilities, equipment and the impact financially. That way, they were able to focus on the emotional stages with his father without being distracted by what they did not know. They already had some basic knowledge.

Manage the details. The devil is truly there in the details. I have seen the greatest of ideas fall apart because of the straw that finally broke the camel’s back. Great plans can fall apart in a heartbeat if the details are not considered. The couple of my story spent the last 10 days focusing on the details, knowing they still had a bit of time to pull it all together.

Create a team. Even under these difficult circumstances where geography alone made and will continue to make the move to Dad’s room-sized home challenging, the odds of success are high if the family lets others in. For example, having the right health care team can make all the difference. From physician to Physical Therapist, from Director of the assisted living facility to the people you finally decide to work with for needed equipment, all play a vital role in helping you stay focused and confident. Figuring out how big “your team” needs to be is another one of those decisions you don’t take lightly.

Most of us don’t really want to think about the time when our journey will take us places we don’t exactly want to go. I learned a lot from this young couple and their commitment to some basic principles. And, Dad’s new room is already starting to look like home.

If you need help evaluating whether your parents' home is safe, or are wondering what to do to make your home ready to have a parent or relative move in with you, contact us. We offer free home evaluations to help you find the right solutions for safety and caregiving.

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