Question from Martha: My 70-year-old dad was diagnosed with dementia recently, but he's been showing symptoms for a few years. Some days he forgets how to write a check — how can I ask him to let me help manage his finances?
Amy: Martha, I have been through this with my dad too. It's a very tricky issue. I did it in stages. You might try first just offering to help sort the mail and bills. Then you might approach it as a support — not taking over. That was helpful with my dad. There is a dignity involved with financial matters. Gradually I took over balancing the checkbook and now I manage all the bills, but my dad has a separate account for his spending money. He used the ATM card for that for quite a while.
Question from Sandy: My parents refuse to talk to me about their advance directives, funeral plans and the like. How can I persuade them I have their best interests at heart? I'm afraid of something happening to them.
Elinor: Sandy, this is such an important issue and such an important family conversation — and such a difficult one. I find it works best if you open the conversation with "I" messages, just like you wrote in your question. Let them know how worried you are that something might happen to them before they've told you what their wishes are. Tell them you love them, you want the best for them, and you want the peace of mind that you know how they want to be cared for.
Question from Earnestine: My mother has more and more trouble with time and place orientation. I put a picture of my house (in D.C.) on her bulletin board (she's in N.C.), so when she asked where I was or why I couldnt drop by, I would tell her that I lived in the house on the bulletin board and that house was in D.C. For a while that worked great, especially when I told her that we were four hours apart, but now it doesnt have much meaning. Any thoughts?
Amy: Earnestine, it can be so frustrating (and kind of scary) when we see dementia progressing. There does come a point where trying to convince your mother about the "realities" of the situation won't be effective. There is an approach called "validation therapy," where you really just focus on validating what your mother is feeling. You can say, "Mom, I know you'd really like to see me and I'd like that, too." It often works to change the subject, honestly. Bring it around to something she's more comfortable with.
Question from HELP!: Where is there a list of resources for nursing homes? I'm at a loss and didn't expect my mom's stroke.
Elinor: You are in luck! Check out the medicare.gov website and look for "Nursing Homes" under the "Resource Locator" tab. You'll be able to see all the nursing homes in your area and compare them on their quality measures, such as controlling pain and even bedsores. And every community has a person to monitor and address issues in nursing homes. That's the long-term care ombudsman. To find the ombudsman in your area, go to eldercare.gov.
Amy: You might also find a local geriatric care manager or assisted living locator service (they do nursing homes too usually ) in your area to have someone show you local options.
Question from Bill, Texas: I believe there's a stigma that all caregivers are women. Do you think that's true? I look after my mom (84), who has cancer.
Elinor: Bill, you are right. Most people think caregiving is only a women's issue. AARP's research shows us that men are caregivers, too (40%), and that number has grown over time. Check out my column on male caregivers under aarp.org/ginzler. For men, caregiving can be even more of a juggling act, and many men who are working find it hard to balance.