Care homes not only option for elderly parents

Q: I am worried about my sister. Of the five of us who grew up on the farm, she is the only one who stayed behind after high school graduation.

That, of course, is just fine, but somehow in the process she has become the family caregiver, and I am concerned that she is spending too much time looking after our father and not enough time being with her husband and their three wonderful children.

All of this started innocently enough. When our parents sold the farm and moved into town, they picked up a house not more than 20 minutes from where my sister and her husband live.

At first it was easy. My sister and/or her husband would drive our parents to their various appointments and sometimes pick up a few things from the grocery store for them, but after our mom died, things changed.

Our father is not really capable of looking after himself. He should be in some kind of a long-term care facility for the elderly, but he refuses to consider it.

In the meantime, my sister is over there four or five times a week doing his laundry, cleaning, washing, prepping meals for him and stocking up the shelves from the grocery store.

This is too much. She does not have time for her own family and when she gets a few moments alone at home she is too tired to have fun with her kids.

I think that this needs to change. What can I, or we, do to convince our father that the whole thing is irrational and that both he and my sister would be better off if he signed in for long-term care?

A: I would like to begin by thanking you for being as sensitive as you are to your sister. That alone might be helpful for her.

Often as not, the sibling left behind at home is caught under the critical eye of his or her other brothers and sisters. The at-home sibling is expected to do more to help aging parents, regardless of how much she or he already does. As well, no matter what he or she does, it is probably wrong. She gets criticized.

That is not your case, and I hope that your sister appreciates the support you are giving her.

Caregiving appears to be a uniquely Canadian activity. It’s estimated that eight million people have at some time in their lives been caregivers.

Sometimes caregiving is caught in the home, with either Mom or Dad looking after the other one. Other times caregiving is found in the world of the aging, such as is the case with your family, and then there are care-giving parents for children who are either physically disabled or emotionally challenged. Our health care system would collapse entirely if not for the extent to which caregivers are looking after those who would otherwise need institutional help.

Caregivers burn out, and that is obviously what you are trying to prevent for your sister.

One possibility is to have your father admitted to a long-term care facility, and maybe it will come to that, but that might not be his only option.

Our various levels of government have recently been investing in at-home programs, and it could well be that your sister might be able to pass off much of what she does to her local home care.

Also, some long-term facilities have day programs, where people come for the day but otherwise live at home, and that might work for your father.

Then there are those physiotherapists and occupational therapists who love spending time teaching people such as your father the art of self maintenance.

You and your sister need to have a few conversations with your father. Too often, adult children talk about their parents and not to their parents. Don’t short sell him.

My hope is that your sister will draw a line in the sand and say to your father very clearly, “that is all that I can do.”

Your job is to support your sister and to make sure that she sticks to her guns.

Then the two of you need to work with your father to look at whatever options might be there for him.

Your local home care program will have some kind of an assessor on staff who can help all of you better understand what to expect from your father and where he can go to get the support he needs to carry on at this point in time. With the three of you working together you should be able to resolve things both for your father and your sister.

Jacklin Andrews is a family counsellor from Saskatchewan. Contact: jandrews@producer.com.

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