Tips for helping a friend's parent

sandysageOctober 1, 2012

Hi there - I haven't been on this forum for so long that I can't remember my original User Name. Ha! My life has changed substantially over the past two years. After placing my mother in an ALF 5-yrs ago, I've been through many ups-n-downs with her. But I have a new issue at hand....

After being laid-off last year, I had to relocate across the country for work. My work is now managing a large ranch and I am on the property almost 24/7. Yesterday the ranch owner asked if I was interested in additional/paid work: helping to care for (or "oversee") his elderly mother who also lives on the property in a small home.

So, in need of more $$$ and having some extra time, I am considering it. He mentioned that maybe it wouldn't be more than checking in on her twice a day and seeing that everything is in order (heat or A/C on as needed, refrigerator closed, coffee made, dog fed, etc.) The woman is very mobile and is able to care for her personal/hygiene items. But, at 90, she is showing signs of dementia. I think it will be easy to accommodate his request but I am looking for a list of things that will help her daily routine. Like: buy pod coffee rather than big cans of loose grounds; buy single serve food (she's having trouble closing lids for milk, honey, etc); check her laundry; etc... I'd like to be as helpful as possible and allow her to still be *busy* and independent. Money isn't too much of a problem....

The area is VERY VERY rural and she is content in her solitude...

Thanks for any little tips!


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I haven't thought it all through, but want to give you some first impressions.

First, it's not a "friend's" parent, it's your employer. Always treat the relationship as such.

First thing I'd want to know is what to do in case of emergency. Does she have a Lifeline or similar alert button? Will she use it? Who will be contacted if she does fall or call for help? Call for an ambulance? What will you do if you come in and find her in the bathtub with a broken hip?

I'd want to know all her medications, all the medical instructions. And not as interpreted from her. You'd probably want to go to the doctor appt with her and hear what is really going on.

I would not change a lot like coffee pots or such. She knows how to handle those big cans of coffee by now, and a new gadget will probably not be used.

Things like feeding the dog tend to be done either not at all or too often/too ,uch. You might make a list of simple tasks that you do for her. Is she still doing her laundry? Mopping the kitchen floor? Cleaning her toilets? Either you do it or have someone come in just for that cleaning. She's 90 and money isn't too much of a problem. Do you wnat to be doing that at 90? Nope, me neither.

That's a start. I know others will chime in with more, and I'll add more later. And also, maybe share these notes and concerns with the ranch owner. He probably has no idea what is involved.

Oh, and thanks for your comments on that other thread about guardianship. You were right on with your comments and experiences. Thank you for sharing.

    Bookmark   October 1, 2012 at 11:48PM
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Thanks so much for the insight. Yes, an employer and wife is a friend. Sometimes the combination gets complicated and thanks for the reminder that HE is the employer and it is HIS mother that I'm talking about. His wife has been verbal about not wanting to be the MIL *oversight* any longer. ;-)

She has no alerts but probably couldn't use them. She is having difficulty with the phone (i.e. it rings but she doesn't answer). Though when handed the phone she is fine... and the coffee is not being handled correctly - there are bowls with grounds sitting about. She denies any falls but I'm sure they happen???

Thankfully there is a maid that comes every 3-weeks. The ranch owner is going to change that to every week - though I'm sure I could keep things tidy between visits.

The parent is not on any medications and has no medical conditions that require monitoring - aside of the dementia. She lived through the war in Germany and is fiercely independent and frugal. Cuts her own hair, clips her nails, and wears thread-bare clothing (though she has plenty of new), bathes and dresses herself for her morning mile walk each morning. I see her & her shepherd each day - until snow!

I am a certified First Responder and would certainly call for ambulance. Again, it's very rural and I'd have no assistance with her physically. I'll be sure to ask about what to do if it's not an emergency but still requires medical attention.

Thanks again - I can use all the insight available!! I have just a few days to get back with the owner.

    Bookmark   October 2, 2012 at 11:10AM
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One more thing... not only is she independent, she is not social. She prefers to be alone and won't even join the family for holiday celebrations. Just has her bread & cheese and listens to the radio. Not even TV. Never had it, never will. She will recount stories of her youth with me on occasion - like while driving to the grocery store. Now she just makes a list. Bread. Oh my, she has a freezer full of day old bread. LOL

    Bookmark   October 2, 2012 at 11:42AM
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Could you make a list and go over it with the employer and his wife? Could you suggest you supplement the care with the wife? How are her eating habits? Who would be resposible if you were not there and you mentioned you had a full time job at the ranch. I do believe you need time off for your self even if it is to leave and get a break. Everyone needs that at least once a month or more. How does the mother get along with you? From what you have said this could be a difficult situation. Like I suggested ,maybe relieving the wife of duties would be a better idea. Personally, I would not do it. Just my thoughts. That is, no matter what happened if you were taking care of her, their might be repercussions from the family..

    Bookmark   October 2, 2012 at 6:35PM
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This could get "sticky" the mom is mobile now but "closing the fridge door" how often would you have to be checking it. What if she starts spilling milk, are you going to have to clean up half dried messes, will they start taking you for granted & expect you to "take mom to dr." clean up after her if she gets sick, etc. Will "walking the dog" be your job for the mile walk if she can no longer do it? It's his mom but wife may want out from under it completely & you may be helping bathe ,diaper or who knows, also looking for her if she gets lost, any fences, can she just take off & your job to "find her". Probably better write list of things that may come up & how it will affect you if he doesn't think you are "doing enough" or she thinks you "should do more"(probably for same pay) a lot would depend on how compatible you are with the couple, is their marriage stable(don't want to get in middle of fighting couple)or have to take sides. If she is good friend will that last if you try it & quit or will she hold it against you as she will have more work to do. Lots to think about. More than likely mom is going to resent you for awhile, maybe daily, elders don't like to think they are failing. I know from friends & 90 yr old mom. 1 friend's parents got help 4 hrs a day. the wife wanted her out of her house even tho hubby was getting lost etc. Dog food could be locked up & you take out just enough for that day so dog would be Ok. Fridge could be slightly higher in front so would close on its own as most have screw feet. Mine closes by it's self. Are they going to pay s.s. taxes & income taxes? What if she falls 5 minutes after you leave to go do your other duties, will you be responsible for her "laying there for 4 hrs". Lot to think about!You will definitely need 1 weekend off a month & 1 day a week,because you have the other job, you will burn out otherwise.Good Luck!

    Bookmark   October 3, 2012 at 12:33AM
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The other responses have been great. I thought it might be helpful for you to see some examples of caregiver contracts. They might give you a better idea of what you'd really be dealing with.

One thought struck me -- the son is asking you to help with caring for his 90 year mother. Supposedly she's in great shape except for SOME dementia. My experience is that family members try very hard to look on the bright side of dementia. It's always, "just the slightest symptoms," "just needs a few reminders," "sometimes can get a bit confused," etc. It's very hard for most family members to honestly evaluate their loved ones status. And they also usually have unrealistic expectations. "If we can get some home-cooked food into her, she'll get back to normal." So the job he's describing may not end up being the job you'll really be doing. Also dementia progresses. What is manageable now may not be manageable in six months. Is the son prepared for more care being needed. Are you?

As others have mentioned, this is a serious undertaking and should be thoughtfully considered before going ahead with it. Perhaps reviewing the contracts will help you formulate exactly how you want to approach the "job." And give you something concrete to go over with the employer. Because so much is at stake, I would not enter into this agreement on just a handshake and a couple of conversations.

Here is a link that might be useful: Google Seach for Sample Caregiver Contracts

    Bookmark   October 4, 2012 at 8:33PM
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Thanks for all the concern. However, much is unwarranted. I've been working here, living on the property, for a year and know the situation quite well. I just didn't want to get into a full disclosure story because I was actually just hoping for some ideas & tips on how to help the parent with daily tasks.

The son & wife are in the healthcare industry themselves - one with a Masters in Nursing. They are comfortable with the risks and will take the next step when needed. What they are wanting from me is to CHECK IN on her. If she needs more care later, they'll have that done via live-in aide. They've asked for no more than my 1 hr/day, M-F, unless they've sent me to town for other tasks (getting feed, farmers market, etc).

Our agreement and respect for each other will be the same for this work as it is for my managing their entire ranch. If it goes ugly, it all will. Obviously, I don't expect that to be the case or I wouldn't still be here! They've given me an amazing opportunity and have turned out to be that 1 in a million. (When I found the job via the internet, many neysayers thought it was a SCAM and begged me not to go. But they flew me out to interview and I knew I had found something good.)

    Bookmark   October 5, 2012 at 10:36AM
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Just an update on my situaiton....

It is going well. I check-in on the woman each day during the work week. My visits are mostly to make wellness checks and make sure she has the needed groceries. I've been able to identify several *unsatisfactory* situations (telephone broken, power service disrupted due to main fuse blow, hot water heater out, etc) and have been able to resolve all without the family making a trip home. It's liken to my usual work managing the ranch so I don't find the added responsibility overwhelming. Hope I am in such good shape as this woman, at 90 yrs-old and still (mostly) caring for herself, walking a mile each morning and doing a bit of gardening, reading, and caring for her lovely dog.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2013 at 5:54PM
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