Families spend three to five years caring for an aging relative. At first it may be light chores or small errands now and then. But over time, health challenges emerge and needs grow.
In his book, My Mother, Your Mother, geriatrician Dennis McCullough outlines eight “stations” in the journey of late life. For each one, he offers insights and tips to help you counter the modern system of “fast medicine” with personalized solutions he calls “slow medicine.”
- Stability. A time of preparation. Get to know your relative at baseline. Stay 72 hours and observe what’s “normal.” Begin to build a support community. Learn about aging.
- Compromise. The advent of symptoms. Stay in touch and informed about emerging health problems. Diplomatically join your relative and work together as a team when considering options.
- Crisis. A major event, typically involving ER and hospitalization. Get involved. Look backward and forward to prevent future problems. Rally the support community.
- Recovery. Often a lengthy process of rehabilitation. Stay involved. Learn what’s needed for recovery. Practice sustained community support. Encourage your relative’s patience. Assess support needs for his or her “new normal.”
- Decline. An obvious drift into frailty. Frequently precipitates a move into a care facility. Stay engaged. Protect your loved one from loss of identity.
- Prelude to dying. A change in spirit that acknowledges death as a real possibility. This period often starts weeks or months before actual passing. Enroll in hospice (three to six months of service is optimal). Visit, give attention. Ask their life story. Cope with the uncertainty.
- Death. The last few days. A time of honoring your relative’s end-stage desires. Advocate as necessary. Address anxiety, yours and theirs. Provide comfort, often touch.
- Grieving/legacy. An intensely personal experience, often lasting years. Look for opportunities to reminisce.