Several weeks ago, just before his 101st birthday, Lewis Seifert allowed us to video some of his thoughts about life and legacy. As we approach another Fathers Day, it seems appropriate to share that video with the larger Providence family.
Myth 1: Slower pace = lower capacity
While age does affect the speed at which we process information, it does not necessarily diminish our ability to reason, manage information, or make decisions.
Myth 2: Logic makes sense
One effect of aging is that the right brain takes on a dominant role as gatekeeper for new information. Because the right brain typically interprets intonations and facial expressions, it can be more effective to communicate with Mom or Dad by telling stories and using metaphors. This does not mean that seniors are illogical! It means that logic must be delivered relationally.
Myth 3: Interest = urgency
Seniors are at a stage of life with a different psychological agenda. This is a time of reflection rather than rushing, of consideration rather than conquering. Typically, this means they will not respond to artificial deadlines, high-pressure techniques, or other gimmicks designed to create urgency. This can be frustrating if you’ve been given the responsibility to convince Mom or Dad to move to a retirement community! But remember, the fact that they are not ready to move right now does not mean they aren’t interested. If you have a relationship they trust, they will signal when they are ready to move forward.
Myth 4: Rambling conversations should be re-directed
In their “reflection” stage of life, older adults use non-linear conversations to sift
through experiences, evaluate their importance, and come to conclusions about
values. By paying attention to these “ramblings,” you can gain clues about what is
meaningful to them.
Myth 5: Repetition = forgetfulness
Repetition is actually a way to highlight the people and moments that are particularly meaningful. If you hear the same story from a loved one over and over, try to figure out what values that story conveys.
Myth 6: The choice is clear
Sometimes seniors make decisions that don’t seem to make sense. For example, to staff and residents at Providence communities, the benefits of moving seem obvious — we offer more amenities at lower cost! But by listening to your someone’s values, as mentioned above, we might come to understand that “savings” is not as important as “control,” or “convenience” is less important than “memories.” The choice may seem clear to us, but we haven’t factored those values in.
Myth 7: Stubbornness must be outlasted
“Control” can be an important value for our parents and grandparents who are in the end phase of their lives. Rather than trying to convince them or outlast them, why not reassure them? Show your respect by using questions like:
- How do you want to manage this situation?
- This is your decision. How can I help you get the information you need?
- Is it important for you to maintain your independence even after your health changes?
- What choices are most important to you?
Understanding the physical, emotional, mental, and value changes that can happen during the final phase of life can help you receive communication differently from the seniors in your life. And that’s the key to meaningful relationships!
Emily M. Butler-Morton is a marketer with a heart. She spent 25 years in various marketing positions with various senior living communities. During that time, she helped hundreds of seniors and their families through the process of first accepting the idea of moving into a retirement community, and then finding the perfect community to move to. She has distilled her experience into a small, helpful paperback titled Care Enough to Know—Keep Your Parents Safe.
The chapter titled “Care Enough to Ask, Look, and Do” is particularly helpful. It is made up of a series of questions that people should ask of any retirement community they are considering. The questions are divided into categories such as Food, Financial, Safety, and Comfort, and the author gives some action steps on the best way to gather the information. “Visit at odd times,” she says, for example, “late at night and on weekends. How many staff members are working?” She also suggests interviewing current residents to find out what they like and don’t like about the community. (If you’d like a convenient form for recording your impressions of a community — or of in-home care options —download Providence Life Services’ free Research Checklists.)
While Care Enough to Know is a guide to finding the right community for your senior loved one, The Complete Eldercare Planner, by Joy Loverde, is more comprehensive. For one thing, Joy expands the definition of caregiver. “And we don’t need 24/7 involvement to be considered a caregiver,” she says in the Introduction. “We may be living with loved ones and caring for them, or we may be picking up the phone and checking in every once in a while. Whatever the case may be, when there are older people in our lives, and we’ve increased the amount of attention we give them, and we’re starting to be more concerned, we are caregivers.”
The Complete Eldercare Planner covers a range of topics — finances, emergencies, insurance, legal issues, even death and dying. Each chapter ends with a list of “Low-Cost and Free Resources” and an “Action Checklist” to help you apply the key learnings.
The third chapter of the book — “Be Kind to Yourself” — addresses a subject that is often overlooked in the stress of caregiving:
“Your own health, the quality of your professional and personal lives, and your relationships outside of the one you have with your elders should not suffer as a consequence of providing care. What it takes is a leap of faith. Review this chapter as often as needed as a reminder of the many ways you can be kinder to yourself in the caregiving process. The suggestions in this section of The Complete Eldercare Planner will help you assess whether you are on the brink of burnout, and if you have already crossed that line, it will help guide you to a well-deserved balanced lifestyle.”
Joy includes a number of worksheets and charts in her book, and these are available as individual, downloadable documents from her website. But if you’re looking for these forms as a single document that covers everything, try the Health Info Kit from Providence Life Services.
The Health Info Kit was developed specifically for caregivers who need a single “container” for someone else’s medical information, including health history, doctor contact info, allergies, and medication lists. Completing the forms the first time is a lot of work, but it’s worth it to have it all in one place every time you take Mom or Dad to a doctor appointment!
The Health Info Kit is a free resource, downloadable as a PDF or Word doc so you can print as many copies as you need. Other key forms — Durable Power of Attorney, Living Will, DNR — are also available in the sidebar of the same web page.