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When the daughter becomes the mother

Today’s post was written for us by Cindy Smith, a close friend and client of FirstLight Home Care. Here’s what she has to say about her experiences finding care for her elderly mother.

I never expected to become a mother again at the age of 50. It was the first in a series of shocks.

However, the person I am taking care of is not a child. It is my mother, one of the most precious people in my life.

My father was always the healthy one, the strong one, invincible in his own way. Never been in the hospital, hardly ever had a sick day in his 50 years as an accountant. My mother was always the sickly one, having been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and lupus in her 20s. When my mother had to have an emergency colostomy when she was 78, I still remember my dad’s exact words: “Don’t worry honey, I will he here to take care of you.”

That same year, he died unexpectedly. Shock #1. He was going to be the caregiver, the one who took care of her “until death do them part.” How could he be gone? However, I didn’t have time to grieve, because suddenly my Mom was all alone and could not take care of herself.

I live in Colorado, my Mom lives in Arizona. I couldn’t move her to Colorado, because of our altitude and her respiratory problems. I couldn’t move there, because I have a full-time job and at the time, had two kids in school.

So what to do?

And that is the question many of us baby boomers are faced with. Overnight, according to the National Alliance for Caregiving, I became one of the 69 million people, or 29% of the US population that cares for an elderly parent. And like most caregivers, I love my Mom and would do anything to make her happy.

Like many elderly people, she wanted to stay in the comfort of her home. Adjusting to the loss of my dad was one thing, so uprooting her seemed cruel. At first I thought about hiring a caretaker on my own. One person who would live in with her. But what happened if that person got sick? There was no backup. Plus my Mom required medications in the middle of the night.

So then I mentioned a homecare agency … her friends told me horror stories! “They’ll steal all her things”, “they’ll mistreat her and you’ll never know because you live thousands of miles away”, and my favorite “they’ll steal all her drugs and sell them on the street, ” were their comments. Compounding my stress was my guilt that I was not going to be the one with her.

Shock #2. Her peers were wrong. There are great homecare companies out there that provide 24/7 care. It’s a matter of finding the right one, interviewing the caregivers and talking to other people who have used them in the past. I asked around – her doctors and social workers at Mayo Clinic – and even my friends and their friends on Facebook. I did my homework and research.

I happen to be familiar with FirstLight Home Care who have locations throughout the United States. I liked them immediately because they were reputable, friendly and honest people who truly understood my pain and stress. But most importantly, they loved my mother!

If I can save any other adult daughters looking for homecare some stress, I would pass along this advice from one who has been there:

1. Communicate with the homecare agency. Tell them what your Mom likes to do, her routines, and even her favorite foods (my Mom hates lima beans). Tell them little things like pet peeves (my Mom is a neat freak). As issues arise, talk to them about it. My Mom is 84 and often gets confused … in cases of dementia, this is even more critical. Don’t jump to conclusions … get both sides of the story.

2. Write it down. No one can remember everything. Write things down as updates occur, I email them!

3. Prepare a job description. You need to tell them what you expect them to do. Housework? Medication? Errands? Transportation? In my Mom’s case, it was all of the above. Also, are there any special issues? For instance, my mom has a colostomy and a catheter, both situations requiring special care.

4. Background checks. Another plus for using a professional homecare agency is you do not have to use background checks … they do them for you.

5. Show your appreciation. My mom had two main caregivers – each in 12 hour shifts. It’s not an easy job. I remembered the caregiver’s birthdays and special holidays. Many times the caregivers went above and beyond, and I sent them gift cards in the mail. And it’s not just about money – compliment them.

6. Schedule unexpected visits. In the beginning before we settled into a routine, I scheduled unexpected visits. Because I generally fly to Arizona every other month to see my Mom anyway, this was easy. And I’m happy to say, there were no ugly surprises.

Having my Mom in her home for three years was great. Having a homecare agency like FirstLight Home Care I could depend on was a blessing.
Unfortunately, my Mom’s condition has worsened and now she is in skilled care. But you know what? I still have her caregiver spend a morning with her one/day a week. It’s continuity for my Mom and companionship. Plus I know the caregiver sneaks her french fries from McDonald’s all the time … how endearing is that? They are the best of friends!

Did I ever think I would assume the role of adult in our mother-daughter relationship? No. But you know what? When I think about all the things my Mom did for me growing up and all the sacrifices she made (okay, those dance recitals were brutal), I’m grateful I can even payback a slice of the love she gave to me.

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