LEWISBURG - Call it the battle of the ages - concerned family members trying to persuade fiercely independent senior loved ones to accept their help.
Just when you thought that a family caregiver's job couldn't get more difficult, consider this: Many of the estimated 30,500 households caring for a senior in the Central Susquehanna River Valley are trying to help an aging relative who'd rather not have help.
So the Home Instead Senior Care office serving the Central Susquehanna River Valley came up with a solution and launched a new multimedia family caregiver support program called "Caring for Your Parents: Education for the Family Caregiver."
The program includes free online resources including educational videos, topical workbooks, a stress meter and information designed to help families provide the best care possible for their aging loved one. All of the resources are available at www.caregiverstress.com.
Many seniors are resistant to care, and families often are seeking ways to help keep their aging loved ones safe in their homes.
A study of family caregivers who responded to a survey on caregiverstress.com revealed that more than half of the respondents (51 percent) said that their aging relative was very resistant to care. These seniors often object to help whether it's from their own children or a professional who tries to come into their homes to assist.
"This is a real problem for family caregivers worried about the safety of a senior loved one who might be forgetting food on the stove or neglecting to take their medications," said Joe DeLauter, owner of the Home Instead Senior Care office serving the Central Susquehanna River Valley.
DeLauter said that seniors resist help because they are afraid that if they admit they need help their independence will be questioned.
"Seniors believe that once they acknowledge they need help, they'll lose control of their affairs. They are trying to maintain dignity. Unless they feel they can trust someone, they resist change," he said. "I believe it's the fear that life as they've known it will be taken away from them."
Sometimes seniors only want help from a son or daughter, which can put undue pressure on that family caregiver who feels he or she can't call for professional help. Most caregivers can go into "crisis mode" to rally around a loved one in the short-term, "but you can't be totally immersed in a crisis mode long-term without your own family, work and health suffering," according to family caregiving consultant Dr. Amy D'Aprix, author of "From Surviving to Thriving: Transforming Your Caregiving Experience."
The strain can take a particular toll on working family caregivers. The Home Instead Senior Care study revealed that 42 percent of caregivers spend more than 30 hours a week caregiving. That's the equivalent of a second full-time job.
And that's what makes countering that resistance to assistance so important.
"Many times family caregivers make assumptions but never ask: 'Mom, I've noticed that every time I bring up having someone come in to assist, you don't want help. Why is that?' Sometimes the parent doesn't realize they're being resistant," D'Aprix added.
"Also, reassuring a senior loved one that you have the same goal in mind will help," D'Aprix said. "Start with: 'My goal for you is to be independent, too. You know I can't be here all the time. A little extra assistance will help you stay at home.' "
DeLauter said the battle to turn resistance into assistance can be fierce, like seniors who call police when a professional caregiver shows up.
"Education can help arm family caregivers with the tools they need to create a win-win for everyone," he said.
Two of the most important issues for seniors are to remain independent and keep living in their own home. But health and cognitive issues can sometimes make normal day-to-day living a bit more challenging.
While some seniors accept assistance with no problem, many others can be initially resistant to the thought of someone helping them, particularly if the assistance is provided by a non-family member.
In many cases though, assistance is necessary in order to maintain the safety and well-being of the senior, and the peace of mind of the family.
Despite an obvious need for assistance, sometimes the urge to remain independent is strong.
According to a survey by Home Instead Senior Care, only one-quarter of seniors actually ask for help directly, so encountering resistance from the other 75 percent is very normal at first.
If you're wondering if you might be overreacting or if your loved one's situation truly calls for a need for additional care, Home Instead Senior Care pulled together a list about the top 10 situations that prompted family members to provide a senior with additional assistance. They are:
* An injury-illness-medical condition left the older relative less able to function independently.
Advanced age made the older relative less able to function independently.
The family noticed that the elderly relative was becoming burdened by their every day tasks.
The older person asked for help directly.
The family member would feel guilty if they didn't offer to help out.
The older person needed more assistance after the death of a spouse or partner.
The older relative would have had to move or leave their home if some assistance was not provided.
The family noticed that the parent-relative was losing interest in some of the activities they used to enjoy.
Family members noticed that the parent-relative was losing weight.
Family members noticed that the parent-relative's appearance was deteriorating.
If your senior loved one falls into one or more of those categories and you approach them about getting outside support and they still resist, below are some suggestions from the American Geriatrics Society about how to overcome their reluctance:
If a family member is stretched thin with their caregiving duties, sometimes he or she just needs to ask the senior to do things to make his or her life easier - as a favor, which includes having an additional caregiver step in to help out.
Use the phrase, "I would feel so much better if I knew that you had more help, someone to do your food shopping, someone to take you to the drug store, someone to be here when I can't, etc"
Instead of the family caregiver suggesting additional assistance, have a trusted third party suggest to the senior that they hire a professional caregiver.
Perhaps his or her doctor, geriatric care manager, best friend, priest, etc. could play this advice-giving role.
Involve the senior in the planning for their care. Don't make unilateral decisions unless the senior really does not have the mental capacity (e.g., dementia or Alzheimer's) to participate in his or her own lifestyle decisions.
Show how a service will make it possible to remain independent longer in his or her own home. Most of these professional caregiving services provide free consultation to assess the senior's specific situation and make recommendations.
If the senior continues to show signs of problems (e.g. burning pots of foods, missing doses of important medication or falling at home) use these events as a time to discuss your safety concerns and suggest additional assistance options.
If the senior is still resistant, but is a danger to himself or herself, speak to an elder law specialist about taking steps to become a guardian to your family member so that you can make decisions for them.