I have three children. I love them all dearly and kind of want to be their friend. It is really nice when they like me but I am not worried about being liked by them. My job is to be their parent. I have to say no to them when saying no is appropriate even if it is unpopular. I have to teach them right from wrong and guide them to make good decisions. Frequently – in fact more often than not – they don’t like the decisions I make (I am very sorry but we are not going to eat ice cream for breakfast) but that’s too bad. It is my job to raise good, well mannered, hard-working, productive members of society.
But, sometimes I start to feel guilty. My kid does something dumb and he gets punished but his friends – all of whom did the same dumb thing – avoid punishment. I feel a little bit bad about it – just for a minute. Then I look at the bigger picture. I reexamine my goal as a parent and realize that life for my children is a marathon, not a sprint. Teaching them right from wrong will take them a lot further than having them like me. I look back at decisions my parents made when I was young – things I didn’t like at the time – and now realize that those decisions and their guidance helped me be the person I am today. That is a good thing and I hope that in the future my children think about what I am doing the same way I think about what my parents did.
Helping an elderly loved one is a little bit like raising a child. Not because the elder is equivalent to a child but because you will be forced to make difficult decisions for someone who needs your help and guidance. Things that might not be what your loved one would have wanted a number of years ago when they were young and healthy but things that you know need to be done now.
The things that ties these two issues together – i.e. raising children and helping an elderly loved one – are (1) you might need to make decisions for them; (2) you might not be popular because of your decisions; and (3) you need to be guided by the end goal.
While the goal of parenting (at least my goal) is to raise productive members of society, the goal of caring for an elderly loved one (again, at least my goal) is to provide them with the highest possible quality of life. When a loved one is able to make their own decisions – i.e. they have mental capacity to evaluate the situation, process the circumstances and make good, safe decisions about their own care – they should do so and you should help them implement their wishes. However, once they can no longer make their own decisions then you should be guided by the goal of their care, and I would suggest that maximizing their quality of life should be that goal.
If transitioning your loved one from their home to an assisted living community or nursing home would achieve that goal, despite the fact they said in the past they never want to leave their home, then you should initiate that transition. Of course, you should weigh the options presented. If someone with dementia was very social but always took the position they never wanted to leave their house, what is more important – to keep them home with home care or to move them from their home into an assisted living community with an active social setting? Well, what would provide them with the highest possible quality of life? If you are guided by that north star then every decision you make will be the right one.
These decisions are difficult. They can be the difference between life and death. They are hard to make. Having a north star or a criteria to use to guide you and anyone helping you to care for your loved one can make these decisions much easier. It is hard caring for an elderly loved one. The day in day out work is physically exhausting. Wondering if you are doing the right thing is mentally exhausting. Rely on the goal of your loved one’s care – your north star – to reduce the mental exhaustion because when you know you are doing your best to give your loved one the highest possible quality of life then there isn’t really any more you can do.