Sailing the Caregiving Seas

We daughters and sons of elders sometimes find ourselves navigating rough, and even treacherous, seas. We might even experience a bit of sea-sickness when tacking from “family mediator” to “financial advisor.” And with the ever-changing winds, we might unexpectedly find ourselves sailing in the direction of “case manager” and “health advocate” one day, and the next, being called to take on the role of “legal advocate.” Each turn of the tide may require super-human strength to rotate the ship’s Spinning Wheel of Caregiving Roles in the required direction. Sometimes we may feel very alone out there on the high seas. On the ship of elder-caring, the sails are constantly unfurling, and the ocean is seldom predictable. An able captain and crew will be aware of the needed expertise. With a number of family members as part of the crew, someone needs to step into the vital role of captain. If we are fortunate, it is the elder her or himself. If not the elder, often it is a female family member or the one living closest to her elder relative. She becomes the “go to” person, coordinating needs and communicating with the family. Perhaps this person always performed the “take charge” or “caregiver” tasks for the family. On the other hand, certain family members may choose not to be involved at all. Family dynamics that have taken lifetimes to establish become amplified once again. Nothing like a sibling to take one back to being a kid in the blink of an eye! In times of family tension it is helpful to find common ground (“Mom needs our help right now”) and agree to delegate specific roles to those who have formal or informal expertise in the specific area of need. Each eldercare situation is unique and there are many roles to be played to address the myriad of needs. All of these tasks are not required at the same time, but the majority of them will be required at some point in the journey. In preparation for the trip, it is helpful to have supplies on hand – knowledge of formal and informal services that exist, and which roles relatives are willing to perform. As an eldercare coach, I work with families as “first mate” and “navigator” to determine the gaps that need to be filled in giving the best care to an elder. I use the Spinning Wheel of Caregiving Roles™ as a practical “diagnostic” tool for families to determine which relatives and close friends are available to perform these functions before moving to hiring professional help. The Wheel is a neutral visual tool to use for beginning a sometimes difficult conversation with our parents and siblings. It can be used multiple times to re-assess ever-changing situations. With professional guidance it immediately identifies an elder’s needs, family member roles, and professional resources available to address those needs. All hands on deck can make the journey a lot easier.

For more information about the Spinning Wheel of Caregiver Roles™ and accompanying Workbook, contact Dr. Lyndall Hare, Midlife Transitions Gerontologist at Lyndall Hare Coaching & Consulting.