Once upon a time, many years ago, you had an uncomfortable conversation with your mom.
“Will you be my power of attorney?” she said. “Your brother isn’t into that kind of thing and your sister lives out of town.”
Talking about things like this took you far outside your comfort zone, so you made a goofy joke about how you might handle that kind of power. In the end, you signed the papers and forgot about it.
Today, you got a call from the hospital, saying your mother had fallen and fractured her hip. She was facing surgery and then rehab, and then they would discuss if she could live independently any more.
Or, your mother’s neighbour phones to tell you that she was lost in her own neighbourhood, and all the signs you had been ignoring or calling stress are suddenly frighteningly real.
You are a sudden care partner, and you have no idea what to do next.
1. Provide reassurance, even if you don’t feel it yourself.
No matter how freaked out you are, the elder you love is probably struggling more. Remind her that you are here for her, that you will figure this out together, and that you love her. Be honest. “I don’t have all the answers, Mom, but I will find them, and we will come up with solutions we both think are best. We are partners together in this.” You may have to repeat this message over and over.
2. Spend a few minutes in their shoes.
Think about all the losses that your elder is experiencing now, and those they face in the near future. Health, independence, perhaps the home and treasures they love. The world may seem to be a bleak and frightening place for them right now. Understanding will breed the compassion you will need for this journey.
3. Ask questions, keep notes.
You will probably be travelling on a steep learning curve for a while. When you are feeling panicked, it’s easy to forget who said what, or what they said. Write down the name, date and comments of every valid expert you talk to.
4. Develop discernment.
As you gather information, you will begin to see discrepancies. Some medical professionals aren’t well versed in the care of the elderly. Some friends have experiences that differ from yours. Some of what you read disagrees with other articles. As time passes, you will find the kind of care and advice that resonates with you and your elder. You may be forced into making some decisions quickly, but whenever you can, hold back until you have the information you are comfortable with.
5. Get support.
There are great resources available. The Heart and Stroke Foundation, The Alzheimer Society, National Parkinson’s Foundation—what ever you are dealing with, there are tremendous resources to help you. Use them. You may think, “I don’t have time to go to meetings.” The truth is, talking to others facing similar challenges will be a tremendous help to you. Being a care partner can be a solitary and isolating journey, and you will benefit from talking to others.
6. Look after you.
I’m sure you’re thinking, “I don’t have time for that either.” The intensity of the first few days as a sudden care partner can be overwhelming. Your elder isn’t the only demand on your time. You may have a job, a family and other obligations, and life may seem like a huge balancing act. Take time to replenish yourself in small ways. Read a book, have a hot bath, talk to a friend, sleep. If you don’t look after you, you will get sick, and not be able to be there for your elder.
Sudden care partner, it will get better. Take a breath, hold a hand and go forward. You can do this!
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