Building a support group: for an aging parent & you

Without fail, if Carol is traveling for her job, she’ll have at least six texts and two phone messages by the time her plane lands at her destination city. The communiques aren’t from anyone at her home office. They’re from her husband, her 19-year old son who attends college but lives at home and her widowed 82-year old mother.

Most recently, the SOS messages included “UPS came for a package pickup. Where is it?” (her husband), “What’s our new WiFi password?” (her son) and “Roads are slick. Can you pick up my prescriptions?” (her mother).

Even taking her mother’s waning memory out of the equation, Carol finds that no matter how many times she tells family members important details (like “I’ll be 600 miles away for three days”), she’s the first person they reach out to for assistance.

Nobody can do it all. Not you, your spouse, your children or your parents. As the complications of being sandwiched between caring for children and parents multiply, it’s important to formalize everyone’s support system. The best way to tackle this task is one person at a time, prioritizing the person with the greatest need.

Does an aging parent have life-threatening health issues? Start with him or her by imagining the worst-case scenario. If that person needed immediate medical assistance, what pieces would need to be in place? Calling you when your cell phone is in airplane mode because you’re actually in an airplane shouldn’t be the go-to response to a medical emergency. Likewise, a neighbor that may be willing to check your parents’ circuit breaker or shovel a snowy walk might not have 24/7 availability. For seniors, a medical alert system often offers the best solution when it comes to serious emergencies.

Aging seniors aren’t the only family members who face the challenges associated with life transitions. Everyone needs to understand that routines and responsibilities will change. If one person was relied upon to remember all the details related to running a home, the new operating model should shift to a team concept. A central “playbook” with important details (e.g. new WiFi password) and daily notes (“UPS coming for package pickup. It’s on top of washing machine.”) is one way to lighten the responsibility load that formerly belonged to one person.

For non-life threatening issues (“Can you pick up my prescriptions?”), a multi-string team should be built. You may be the first-string quarterback, but fill the holes with a list of people who can occasionally be tapped for assistance. Church members, old friends, neighbors and even for-hire errand services are all viable options when the going gets tough.

Sooner is better than later to put together a support group. Make a list of people that you or family members have sincere relationship with and talk to each of them about what they would be willing to help with. Be ready to offer what you can (like a 19-year old son who can mow lawns) to keep the situation balanced. With focused effort, you, like Carol, could step off a plane and feel the relief of no messages when you check your phone.


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