Caregiving for Your Aging Parents

We want to welcome Barbara Friesner, founder of AgeWiseLiving and author of The Ultimate Caregiver’s Success Guide, to our Virtual Book Tour today. And readers, you’re about to receive a lot of valuable information about caring for your aging parents. So let’s get started:

Nourishing Relationships: Why did you write The Ultimate Caregiver’s Success Guide?

Barbara Friesner: Caregivers can learn all they want about what to do to resolve their eldercare issues – and there’s plenty of stuff out there to read. (In fact, if you Google ‘eldercare’ over 4 million entries come up). But if you aren’t shown exactly how to do it, you’re no better off. Plus, it made me really sad to see people struggle the way most eldercare providers do. That’s when I decided it was time to put my 25 years of caregiving and 10 years of Generational Coaching on paper.

N R: Your book comes with 11 CDs. Why is that?

B F: I wanted The Ultimate Caregiver’s Success Guide to be as easy to use as possible. But there was so much other information that’s vital to a caregiver’s success. So I created 6 CDs on topics, such as who your aging loved one is generationally, what they’re going through emotionally, 19 caregiver pitfalls and how to avoid them, etc; a CD of all the forms and worksheets in The Ultimate Caregiver’s Success Guide; a CD of my rolodex of outside resources; and 3 CD’s featuring the latest experts’ advice from an Elder Law Attorney; a Personal Financial Planner; and a Family Relationship Expert. Armed with all this information, a caregiver can confidently resolve all their eldercare issues.

N R: You mention 19 pitfalls. What are some of the common ones caregivers fall into?

B F: The first – and probably most important – is not understanding and respecting the generational and emotional differences between us Baby Boomers and our parents. The fact is that generational attitudes and emotional perspectives matter . . . a lot. But too often family members think that because we come from the same family we think the same way. That’s just not true! Our parent’s generation is very different from ours and understanding and respecting how they view the world and feel about it emotionally is critical to your success.

Sometimes what our parents say or do is illogical from our point of view but usually that’s because of their generational perspective. As a result, the way they see and feel about the world is very different from their Baby Boomer children, so it’s very important to understand and respect where they’re coming from both generationally and emotionally.

Another pitfall – and my biggest pet peeve – is thinking in terms of “parenting the parent”. If one person is the parent, by definition, the other is the child. The problem with that is that it’s then very easy to start treating and/or talking to your aging loved ones as if they are children – which they will quite rightfully resent. No one likes being condescended to . . . the “verbal pat on the head”. Unless they have dementia, the best you can do is work with them. Therefore, rather than approaching a conversation with your aging loved one as “parenting the parent”, approach it as a collaboration. And the key to a successful collaboration with your aging loved one is to create and maintain an “adult/adult” relationship.

Another biggie is thinking you can make anyone want to change. Bottom line . . . you can’t. You can’t with your kids, you can’t with your spouse – and with them you have more leverage! So if you try to make your aging loved one do something, it’s not surprising you won’t be successful. The fact is, what you think someone should do doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is that the person making the change wants to make the change. So what do you do? You ask questions – the kind of questions that will help them discover their reason for doing something. The reason may not be your reason or it may be one you never thought of but if their reason works for them and the issue is resolved, then who cares?? (By the way – the same concept works on your kids and your spouse!)

There are 19 pitfalls that come with The Ultimate Caregiver’s Success System but these are major ones.

N R: Your company, AgeWiseLiving has been around for 10 years so what took you so long to write the book?

B F: Every person’s situation is unique to them so for a long time (ok . . . a very long time) I didn’t see how I could write something that would apply to everyone. But over time, I realized that, while each family is unique, the framework for resolving the issues is the same.

For example: Many people make a long list of their goals or have just one . . . such as to move their loved one into an assisted living community or nursing home. (I mean – after all . . . that’s where they’re going to end up eventually, right? I’ve actually had clients who have said that! And then they wonder why their loved one has stopped speaking to them! Hello!)

But, I say that’s not goal. It may be the “end up” solution but it’s not the goal. In my opinion there are 3 goals – and 3 goals only . . .
Goal #1 – that your loved one is safe
Goal #2 – that your loved one is as healthy as possible
Goal #3 – that your loved one is happy

If you focus on these three, the rest of the decisions will be a lot easier to make because then your determining questions are: Will this make him/her safe? Will this help maintain or improve his/her health? Will this make him/her happy? When you keep these three goals in mind, everything else that follows will be a lot easier.

N R:
When dealing with parents, sibling relationships can be very difficult. Any suggestions for how they can work together during this difficult and emotional time?

B F:
Many caregivers – especially women – find themselves doing all the work themselves because they don’t realize how much work it will be until they are overwhelmed and struggling. In addition, because of family dynamics, many caregivers think that it’s easier to go it alone than get involved with all the drama of the family issues. (One of the hardest things about eldercare is that it brings up all the “mommy & daddy” stuff and it can bring out the best and the worst in people.) And on top of that . . . the caregiver ends up really resenting her sibs for not doing what she never asked them to do in the first place!!!

There is a lot of information in The Ultimate Caregiver’s Success Guide but briefly, the solution as it relates to getting your family to help is to call the family together for a care planning meeting specifically called to create a care plan for your aging loved one.

N R: What is the biggest mistake eldercare givers make?

B F: There are two actually. The first is that they don’t organize, plan, and prepare in advance. When our parents were taking care of their parents, the average length of caregiving was 3-5 years. Now the average is 15 years. (My journey with my mother was 17 years.) That’s a long time. When it was only 3-5 years, caregivers might have been able to “wing it” for a few years but you can’t wing it for 15-20 years and stay sane!!! The point is . . . . you can’t always predict your eldercare issues – but you can prepare for them.

The second big mistake is not taking care of themselves. All eldercare givers seem to have one trait in common – that they take care of everyone else – especially their aging loved one – before they take care of themselves. But the reality is – if you don’t take care of yourself you’ll be no good to anyone else. And no, It’s not selfish or self serving to take care of yourself. It’s simply a matter of – if you want to help others – you have to help yourself first.

N R: Some of our readers may not have heard of a Generational Coach. Could you explain a little about Generational Coaching?

B F: As a Generational Coach I work with families who are struggling to help their aging loved ones resolve critical elder care issues. Not only do I help the families figure out what to do, I also help the family communicate effectively with their aging loved one so their aging loved one will actually do what’s in their best interest. In other words, I help families resolve their eldercare issues by choice, not crisis.

I work with the family members – never the senior – and all the work I do is by phone so I work with families all over the world. And, since sibling issues can be a big challenge for many families, I also help siblings work successfully together.

N R: How did you become a Generational Coach?

B F: I became a Generational Coach as a result of more than 25 years of personal experience. I was the care manager for many years for my grandmother and for the past 17 years for my mother who by the time she died recently, had severe advanced dementia.

Helping my grandmother was relatively easy because we were really close. With my mother, on the other hand, it wasn’t so easy because frankly, she and I weren’t all that close. But after my father died, my mother needed help and even though I have 2 other sisters, my mother would only let me help her – which I was happy to do.

Initially I took over her finances which was relatively easy because she wanted my help. Later though, when I had to take away the car and move her into an assisted living community it was extremely difficult and contentious. I realized that finding the answers and getting someone else to do what needs to be done were 2 very different things! I knew I had to figure out some way to talk with her so she would willingly do what was in her best interest – a way other than trial & error!!!

So I did a lot of research, talked with hundreds of seniors and their families, and professionals with senior clients – and created a system that helps the generations successfully help each other WITHOUT the time, money, and stress of trial and error – which ultimately became The Ultimate Caregiver’s Success System.

Thanks, Barbara, for your thoughtful and helpful answers to some difficult questions. You can learn more about Barbara and her work by clicking on the title of this post – it’ll take you to her website, AgeWiseLiving.com.

Readers, now is your chance to find your voice. Click on “Comments” just below and to the right of this post. Share your concerns and ask Barbara your questions. Follow the prompts – you can sign on as anonymous and click send – it’s as easy as that! And log on again tomorrow for our wrap-up. We’ll be posting your comments, questions and Barbara’s answers.

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