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How Do I know If?: Recognizing When a Loved One Needs More Support

By Lauri Scharf | 02/15/2022

A caregiver bolstering her older loved one

How do I know if…?  There are many ways to fill in the rest of this question. Sometimes we can arrive at the correct response very simply.  I can’t stop the bleeding therefore I know it is time to go to Urgent Care. Other times, the correct answer can be harder to figure out. How do I know if I should take the new job or stay in my current position? The real challenge is when there are many potential answers, each leading to very different outcomes. Should I book my vacation to the seashore, the mountains or explore the city? Each option has different benefits, and the vacation will look and feel very different depending on the option selected.

The challenges faced by caregivers may often feel like a continual repetition of this third dilemma. Should I take the car keys away now or later? Should I step in and start to pay the bills? Does my loved one need more help in the home? Is my loved one still safe at home?

Too often, we choose to rely on our older loved ones —even when it is no longer appropriate or possible —to take the lead in decision-making. Tell me when you are hungry, and I will make you something to eat.  Let me know when you no longer feel safe behind the wheel, and I will drive you. And yet, they may be unaware of or unable to accept their new limitations. Or maybe they no longer have the ability to understand what is said or to express their needs. Without any physical signs of their illness, we may forget that we can no longer rely on them as part of our decision-making process.

If we are asking the question How do I know if… about a loved one’s care, it usually means the time to take action is now.  But what if we do not even know the relevant questions to ask, let alone the best answer? We are bombarded with information from well-meaning family and friends, but don’t know how to tailor it to our own situations. Here is a place to start:    

1. Awareness of a problem is the first step to reaching out for help

We might need to push ourselves to take a closer look.  We can ask ourselves:  

  • Would I feel safe being a passenger in my loved one’s car?
  • Is my loved one making good financial decisions most of the time?
  • What level of risk is involved if I do nothing?
  • Looking back at the situation, will I regret that I did not step in sooner?

2.  Identify different options to address the issue.

Things we may consider include:

  • If I take away the car keys, my loved one will be without transportation. What are some options for him or her to remain independent? How might my loved one access senior transportation, Uber/Lyft, or transportation through the insurance company? Could I or another family member take a more active role in this way?
  • If I assume responsibility for paying the bills, will my loved one feel a loss of control?  Are there intermediary steps I should consider? Could we pay bills together?  Should I enroll my loved one in auto-pay through the bank or place limits on the credit cards to avoid overspending?

3. Recognize the impact to your own life

Have we seen changes in ourselves, be they physical, mental, or emotional? Are we exhausted or less patient? Have these changes contributed to additional challenges personally and professionally? Sometimes it is difficult to recognize the toll of caregiving because it feels like we have failed or are simply selfish. But caregiver burden – and burnout – are real and a sign that change is necessary. 

When intuition is not enough, it is beneficial to reach out to professionals for insight and options. WeCare…Because You Do provides support and resources for family caregivers and their loved ones and helps them to answer, “How do I know if…” for any situation they may face.

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