Every time I talk about my work in Tough Conversations I hear a story. And most aren’t very happy.
Recently a friend told me about her parents who live in Buffalo. Her Dad has early Alzheimers; Mom has been his caregiver. My friend and her brother both live in Washington. Mom was doing fine as caregiver until the day she fell on a freezing sidewalk and broke her right wrist. Unfortunately she could not stand up using only her left arm. And she had neither a cell phone nor wore a Lifeline emergency call necklace. The streets in her neighborhood were deserted, and there was no one to whom she could shout for help.
My friend told me that her mother had to drag herself through the snow some 50 yards to the door of a neighbor who thankfully was home and could call 911.
That day life changed radically for my friend and her brother. Since her mother could no longer cook, perform housekeeping chores, or care for her husband, she and her brother would now have to fly to Buffalo on alternate weeks to care for her Mom and Dad.
In retrospect it was only a matter of time before such an event would alter the delicate balance of care and support that she, her brother, and their mother had created around the deteriorating state of her Dad. What could this family have done to save her mother the indignity and discomfort of dragging her exhausted body through the snow to her neighbor’s front door? As important, what steps could they have taken to ensure that the adult children’s lives wouldn’t have to change so drastically?
1. Provide her mother (and every caregiver for that matter) a Lifeline or other kind of emergency call system.
2. Ditto for a cell phone.
3. Compile a resources folder with a list of local caregiver agencies, doctors and their phone numbers and addresses, as well as a run-down of emergency facilities and police.
4. Develop a contingency plan for the day when Mom might not be able to fulfill her caregiver responsibilities. This includes a move to Washington or wherever the adult children live.
The list goes on. But the most fundamental question remains: When should contingency planning begin?
The answer is: NOW.
Sig Cohen, Tough Conversations, a Division of Beyond Dispute Associates.