F is for family.
Family is interesting. They can be your greatest blessing or--not.
Most of the time, families are amazing. They go out of their way to love their family member in ways that count. I have seen them sleep over on a mattress when their loved one was going through a tough time, find a way to take them somewhere special when trips out are a major excursion and visit when their hearts were breaking. Families bring the outside world to the loved one, and they have a connection and history like no other. If you are a family member of an elderly person, you have the possibility of bringing gifts of caring, time and laughter with you with every visit.
However--families aren't perfect, and if there are problems before, you can guarantee the problems will continue or get worse.
Here are some families I have met:
1. The absent family. In spite of the horror stories you hear, this one is rare. Even if family is scattered across the country, they use email, Skype and phone calls to keep in touch, not only with their family members, but also with staff. When loved ones have difficulty hearing, or can't communicate, being in touch with those who care for them is important. I'm sure the absent family exists, but I have known very few.
2. The "daughter from Florida". In this family, there may be family members who you see all the time, and they are the main care partners. But one sister (it's almost always a sister) lives far away and comes once or twice a year. They can be from British Columbia or Timbuktu, but they come in with a critical spirit and a campaign to find fault and change everything. They create havoc for the length of their stay and then they leave and we can all breath again.
3. The major sibling. In any family, a leader emerges. This is the sibling who is always there, and the one you call when something goes wrong. You depend on them to talk to the others. In fact, you depend on them for everything. So does everyone else, and they need to look after themselves or they will burn out.
4. The minor sibling. There may be more than one of these in a family and they are in the background. They don't visit as often. They may be lovely people (often they are) but they are not the leader and they have to check with the major sibling for decisions of any magnitude.
5. The co-dependent. There are some family members who seem to have no life beyond visiting their parent and spending time with them. They are wonderful children--supportive, caring, loving. However, I worry about them. After Mom or Dad passes away, they have a difficult time getting over their loss. They need to be needed in the ways their parent needs them, and it's not a healthy relationship.
6. The second generation. Perhaps a son or daughter is the primary caregiver for Mom, but their daughter remembers Grandma as a different person, and can't relate to who she is now. The second generation can cause all kinds of stress for the primary care partner if they don't accept the changes they see (or don't see) and don't understand. They can cause untold stress if they want Grandma to live up to the person they remember.
7. The queen of de-nile. When family sees changes in the one they love, it hurts. Whether it's physical deterioration or dementia, if the response is to deny it, it makes life difficult for all involved. In a family, if one sibling is in denial, there is often anger and strife.
8. The micro manager. This family member deals with the situation by trying to control every aspect of care. Their expectations are unrealistic, and they scare staff, because they can never be pleased.
In spite of all the negatives listed above, families are the lifeline for their loved one. They have the relationship, the memories, the love and the knowledge of that person to help professional care partners to know them and serve them well. Those of us who work in the industry love the families. We depend on them, become friends with them and need them.
Communication is the key. When someone new moves into my neighbourhood, I spend time equally with the resident and the family, working to get to know them as a person. When they have concerns, I listen and problem solve. If family lives out of town, we email frequently. Communication helps them to trust and to feel we are on the same team.
Family is a gift to an elder. They have a unique relationship and a unique opportunity to bless those they love.