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Aging as a Family Team – We do not age in isolation – #Earlyconversationsaging

March 20th, 2014

Imagine that you phone your mother to confirm the family dinner at her house that night.  Typically she is at home the day of the dinner preparing the usual, home-made chicken parmesan and her delicious butter pecan cookies.  All day long you try to reach her at home, and then on her cell phone, to tell her that you’ll be about a half-hour late.  She is not answering the phone.  You are not too worried about her.  Yes, she is a widow but she is in top shape so nothing could be wrong.  She doesn’t answer the door when you ring so you let yourself into the home with your own key that she gave you.  You find her at the bottom of the stairs, conscious but in excruciating pain.  As it turns out, she tripped on the bottom stair in the morning and she has been laying there all day waiting for you.  She was unable to move to get to a phone.  Obviously you phone the ambulance and meet her at the hospital.  It turns out she broke her hip and requires surgery and then relocation to a rehabilitation facility for a month. 

When we least expect it, and when we see it coming, acute events such as these will disrupt the entire family system. You will become a caregiver, at the minimum on a short term basis, as you visit your mother at the hospital and then at the rehabilitation center, communicate (hopefully) with the hospital team, arrange for home adaptations to assist your mother’s re-entry into a home with stairs – if this is even possible.  You will become her advocate as you phone every government agency available (from a list you found on-line) to locate subsidized services to help your mother with cooking and bathing for at least a few weeks upon her return.  You will then become her taxi for several months, if not longer, assisting her with running errands, buying groceries and following up with the physiotherapist and doctor.  And while she is in the hospital and rehabilitation center, you will become her bookkeeper ensuring that the mortgage is paid, the electricity continues to work and her car insurance does not lapse.  Somehow you will still work full time and try to spend time with your family at home.  How did all of this happen in the blink of an eye?

We age as a family, not as an individual.  In fact, we age as an extended family system which includes the senior, his children, his grandchildren, his physician, the hospital team, the pharmacist and maybe a residence team.  We must start discussions within in our own family unit about aging as a community and how we can effectively work together.

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