By Haley Lynn Gray,
July is the month of fireworks and patriotism. It’s the month of cookouts and our country’s birth. It can also mean loneliness and isolation in the lives of our seniors in the community.
The reality is that as seniors start to slow down, they get out of the house less, do fewer activities, travel less often than they used to, and they may engage less in the community.
They and their friends can slowly become invisible without really intending to. My mom was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) when I was in my teens and she lost the ability to drive. She was so frustrated because, except for Sundays and doctor appointments, she rarely got out of the house. And she didn’t have friends and neighbors dropping by the house to visit her either. It’s not because these people were intentionally neglecting her, it’s just that they were off living their own lives.
Let’s be honest here -- life is incredibly fast paced. We have jobs, kids, and well, LIVES that we are living. It’s not that we’re trying to not notice that someone is engaging less, it’s that we are just so busy that we don’t notice the differences, or rather their absences. If you have kids and a full time job, or maybe just a full time job, it can be hard to keep all the balls in the air at the same time. Summer breaks used to be a time of leisure, of long days at the pool, and maybe running down the street to a friend’s house. Now, summers are about summer camps, day camp, and ferrying your kids back and forth to activities as fast as you can get them there. Some days you feel like a taxi service. I’ve referred to myself as Mom’s Taxi service more than once. If you have younger kids, you haven’t had the opportunity to feel like a taxi yet, but daycare, a job, and the hustle and bustle there never stops either.
The point is this -- it’s not that we are intentionally neglectful, it’s just that life happens. We don’t connect with neighbors perhaps the way that we used to before the advent of the internet, and rampant, sensational news coverage of every single crime everywhere. We keep our kids inside, and we ourselves stay inside. Is it fear? I’m not sure, but there has been a definite shift.
Frequently, it’s when family comes to visit around Thanksgiving and Christmas that we see a huge spike in demand for home care or senior placement. That’s because we’re seeing the changes for the first time in a year, and they can be quite a doozy.
Mom, Dad or Aunt Jane were so spry just a few months ago. Now their home is a cluttered mess and they look disheveled. If you’re not seeing them over the summer months, you may be missing these declines as they happen.
Unfortunately, when changes start to happen, they can be pretty imperceptible. Mom and Dad weren’t born yesterday either; they certainly don’t want to worry you, and they actively work to conceal the changes going on. They also don’t want you to tell them that they can’t stay in their home either. They don’t want to be stuck in a nursing home. The jokes about nursing homes exist for a reason.
When dealing with my dad, we used to go around and around on various topics. I’d ask questions, which he would answer truthfully, sort of. I’d ask him if he was going to the grocery store. Why, yes he was. He would drive over to the grocery store and use mom’s handicapped placard to park in the nearest spot. Then he’d toddle over to the nearest motorized cart, hop in that, and putter around the store. And I actually got to witness Dad telling the doctor how much he was being “active” by going up and down the aisles in the grocery store.
I’d ask him if he was walking out to the mailbox -- why, yes, he was walking out to the mailbox every day. Or rather, when he didn’t have his housekeeper bring in the mail, he would toddle out to the car in the garage. Then he’d get in the car and back it down the driveway the 40 or so feet to the mailbox, retrieve his mail and drive back up to the garage.
My aunt and my brother thought I was completely overreacting for years. Until Dad really couldn’t hide the dementia anymore.
I was fortunate that I was able to convince my parents to move to North Carolina so I could keep a close eye on them. I’m lucky that our family tradition was to have lunch every Sunday, or I never would have realized how much both of my parents had declined.
Most people don’t have that luxury. Over 70% of adult children live away from their parents. That means that they don’t get to see the changes. And they may not have the luxury of seeing them several times a year or even once a year.
It can be hard to know for sure that mom or dad are declining, and even harder to know what to do about it.
Everyone talks about the challenges related to having kids, but they never talk about the challenges relating to having aging parents.
Most people don’t know what services are available, or which ones are good, or anything about it really. They may have misconceptions about who pays for what. In fact, they may think that all care services are covered by Medicare or Medicaid. Unfortunately, very few services are covered by health care plans, and the rest is private pay or long term care insurance.
That creates an even bigger gap. Our parents were raised to have the opinion that everything should be covered by insurance. So the idea that they have to pay for anything is likely going to be met with serious objections.
The reluctance to pay for services, combined with the reluctance to let anyone know they need help, and the natural human tendency to hide things can mean that our loved ones simply don’t get the help they need.
That’s where we come in.
We are Tim and Gina, and we’ve been there ourselves.
About the Author:Haley Lynn Gray is a former owner of a home care agency. She is also the CEO and Founder of Leadership Girl, a digital marketing agency, where she uses her skills as a sales and marketing strategist and social media expert to help small business owners grow their business.