My friend Bert’s parents live in Richmond, about 50 miles from Washington, DC. Bert’s two brothers also live in Richmond, and his older sister Kathy lives in upstate NY. Bert’s parents are having difficulty living independently. Bert’s Mom has incipient Alzheimer’s, and his Dad, who tries to care for Mom, uses a walker.
Bert and his brothers (and a round-the-clock aid service) do a pretty good job caring for his parents. One problem, however, is that their sister, Kathy, has their parents’ health care power of attorney. That means that any medical decision beyond applying a band-aid must have Kathy’s approval. The other problem is that Kathy is what is known as a “Swooper.”
A “Swooper” (don’t bother looking it up in Wikipedia; the term hasn’t ‘arrived’ yet) is usually an adult child who lives some distance from the ailing relatives and periodically “swoops in” to check-up with the parents and oversee how the other siblings have cared for them while she or he (in this case Kathy) has been away.
Most swoopers have little positive to say. They seem ready to pounce on any perceived laxity in the parents’ care and dictate all kinds of changes in their care plan. Once a swooper has created enough chaos (in the eyes of the local caregivers), he or she departs the scene leaving those left behind to pick up the pieces.
What can be done? First, remember that most swoopers’ primary concern is the wellbeing of the ailing relative or parent. Because they live out of town, they often wrestle with the guilt that comes with not being on the scene. As a result some swoopers like Kathy over-compensate with a vengeance.
Second, keep the channels of communication open. Swoopers can experience extreme anxiety because of distance. See whether twice-weekly phone calls — not just with the ailing family members but with siblings — can alleviate their concerns.
If these suggestions don’t work, call a family meeting (if possible with the parents present) and with someone familiar with the parents’ medical condition, like a geriatric care specialist. Try to design a care plan that Kathy feels comfortable with and that alleviates her worries.
A nice succinct article on swoopers and family dynamics, thank you. I’d like to add that once you are aware of the swooper’s habits, please consider and then act on the suggestions in this article. I hear from people all over the country whose family has been the ‘victim’ of a swooper. What I mean is that when it’s time for decisions on end of life choices the individual (swooper) will often let his guilt get in the way with making a clear decision. When that happens the patient’s true wishes can be put aside to make way for decisions based on alleviating guilt. So yes, open the lines of communication now and the family will have a better chance to come together and make the best decisions for loved ones.
John L says
My girlfriend is the head nurse at an assist living and she can would tell you first hand (because I hear about it all the time) these people are really hard to deal. As you call them ‘swoopers’ are definitely the worse part of her job. I wish they knew what they were doing to the care giver, because if they did they would know how bad they sound.