Baby Boomers are taking on a new role as they and their parents’ age. Often, the 50-something “children” are finding themselves reversing roles with parents, turning into caregivers, many times while they still have children at home or as grandchildren are becoming part of their own families.
Two employees from Dallas County caregiving organizations, along with a Perry-area woman who helps her father, shared tips with Perry Living on how to tell when a parent needs extra help, along with some of their own experiences.
Deb Anderson is a social worker and case manager in charge of the Home Care Aide program with Home Care Services. The organization is based in Adel but covers all of Dallas County by providing in-home assistance to elderly people (and others) still living in their homes. The organization serves about 25 clients in the Perry area, which is part of the total number of 75 clients per month county-wide.
They often work in sync with the Dallas County Public Health Nursing Service. Rhonda Shoafstall is a registered nurse who serves as the home health supervisor for the Nursing Service, which also covers the entire county.
Stephanie Hansen of rural Bouton is the daughter of Alan Hall of Perry. She has been helping her father for several years, particularly since her mother died about three years ago.
Knowing when the time is right
All three women say paying attention to the little things and spending quality time with a parent or parents can help an adult child understand what their parents need and when to step in.
If a person visits a parent and begins to see a lack of hygiene, clothes not being washed, dishes piling up, or anything that is uncharacteristic, it could be time to begin talking to the parent.
“Sometimes the changes can be very subtle, but if you are visiting often enough, you will pick up on the changes,” Anderson says. “Mom might have dropped suddenly in weight, bills maybe aren’t getting paid, those kinds of things.”
She recommends open conversation between parent and child, even before problems may show up, but acknowledges such conversations can be tough.
“Not all parents are open with their children about health issues or other problems, so you may not know unless you ask,” she says.
“I don’t get over to see my own father every day, but I call him every day and stop in at night,” she says.
Anderson recommends that children also understand the medications their parents are taking.
“Basically anything that you deal with in your life, you need to know about your parent’s life,” Anderson says.
Find out about legal matters, power of attorney situations, advance directives, debts and more, she says.
Anderson, who also assists her own father, says children should try talking with parents, not at parents.
“Ask them if they would like help with the dishes or paying the bills. Offer to help them with chores, getting groceries or washing clothes,” she says.
What adult children need to remember is that their parents are struggling with a loss of control, just as the children are struggling with the need to be more involved.
Anderson says it is easier for people to deal with other people’s parents aging than their own.
Safety, nutrition and health
Shoafstall advises adult children to first look at safety.
“Do they need to add grab bars in the bathroom, a ramp into the house, a stool (toilet seat) riser, cane, walker or other type of equipment to make them safer in their own home?” she says.
Other safety items may be a shower or bath chair, a microwave instead of a stove and making sure there are no throw rugs or other trip factors in the home.
She, too, mentioned medication concerns.
“Today, pharmacies will set up medication in a bubble pack,” she says. In this, each day’s medication is designated and placed together to take when scheduled.
Transportation is another important issue. Do parents have a way to get to doctor appointments? Shoafstall advises adult children go to appointments with their parent or parents to better understand their health issues.
“Otherwise, the information may not come back to you,” she says.
Also, it is important to agree to disagree.
“It may not be easy for the parent to let the child step in as caretaker or manage their life,” Soafstall says. “They have been so independent, and all of a sudden their adult child is telling them what to do.”
Baby Boomers, in many cases, were not in touch with their parents on a regular basis like young adults are today, she says.
“We had a different dynamic with our parents for the most part,” she says, “and that makes the changes in relationships even more difficult.”
Adult children also need to be looking at services available in the area where their parents live. Soafstall and Anderson note there are services available through their agencies that are provided on a sliding fee scale.
“Agencies in Dallas County communicate very well,” Soafstall says.
The nursing service offers in-home therapy from occupational to physical. They also have visiting nurses who can help with medication, do weekly or monthly medical checks and various types of medical care.
“The nurses work very closely with the doctors and can even set up appointments for the clients,” she says.
Once they take a referral, they usually see the person within 20 hours, Soafstall says.
HomeCare services assists in transportation, personal care with bathing, homemaking, protective and respite care, meals in the form of hot or frozen food and more.
The relationship shift
The relationship shift for Hansen and her father, Alan Hall, took a decided turn when her mother, Betty, passed away three years ago.
“The whole dynamic of my relationship with my father changed after my mother died,” Hansen remembers. “He depended on my mother for a lot of things. After she was gone, he brought bills to me and said he couldn’t do it.”
She now takes care of the bills for her father, although he does still want some awareness of what she does.
Hall lives in one of the cottages at the Rowley Masonic Retirement Community in Perry.
“He can take care of many of his daily needs, and he can eat one meal a day at a dining room at Rowley,” she says. “He also has his medication delivered, already sorted by the pharmacist and placed in a bubble-wrap package.
“Some of my role is to remind him about things. I’ll ask him what doctor’s appointments he has and remind him to let me know if he is going anywhere. He still drives, but I like to know where he is going.”
She says even though she often still feels like his child, she also feels the caregiver role more intensely.
Hall is still very active in the community. He plays piano a couple times a week for church services at Rowley and the Methodist Church on Sunday. Hall retired years ago from teaching music at the junior high school in Perry. He says he appreciates what his daughter does for him.
Hansen smiles as they talk, particularly when he states where he had driven recently.
“He likes to go over to Hy-Vee to have coffee with his friends and go to the lake (Saylorville) to watch the eagles,” she says. “I like to know where he is going, but he doesn’t always remember to let me know.”
She also keeps him informed about what other people in the family are doing, the health of his grandchildren or great-grandchildren.
“That kind of thing seems pretty small, but it is important to keep them informed,” she says.
And while she misses her mother on a daily basis, she doesn’t always share that with her father, because she thinks it would make him sad.
“My mother was the glue, the connectedness in the family. She got everyone together and kept us all in the loop. The whole nature of the family relationships changed when she was gone. I pretty much get everything unfiltered now,” she says. “I have great pride and respect for my father.”
One of the hardest moves for Hall as he and his wife got older was moving out of their home and into independent living cottages. After his wife died, he and Stephanie talked about whether he would be better off in a smaller cottage, and he agreed that he would.
Hall says he calls his daughter every day.
“Sometimes it’s more that I think of things I didn’t ask her about. Like, do you know someone, because I can’t think of their name,” he says. “She cleans my place, and does my ironing. I do my own washing.”
“Stephanie is more than my daughter, she is my lifeline,” he says.