Family Matters

By Kevin McKay


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While some people resist a move into a residence for fear of losing their independence, it is a decision more seniors are choosing to make every year.

The various residences one can choose from need to be checked out, evaluated, and selected based on a wide variety of criteria to make the best choice for each individual. Many seniors are fortunate to be able to enlist the aid of family members to help them with their decisions.  

According to Wayne Melvin, General Manager of Berwick on the Lake in Nanaimo, “Right now we find that approximately 60 per cent of our incoming inquiries originate from adult children looking at options for their parents.”

For some people, much of the choice has been taken away from them by a bad turn of health, but this is not true in every instance of those who are ill.

“If coming from acute care, in many cases, the senior is obliged to take the first bed available, so choice often gets ruled out,” says Loraine Coffin, General Manager of Renfrew Care Centre in Vancouver. “In some instances, we do have a potential resident who is still in the home environment. Many times they are not well enough to come to visit the facility, and rely on the family to assist in the decision making.”

Though there is always the potential for things to go sideways, people working on the front lines feel the more involved family members are in the process of making a choice the better.

According to Christa Castillo, Director of Sales for Sunrise Senior Living in Victoria, “The families guide and provide the reality of the situation when the parent thinks they really do not need assistance.  More support from family members assures the seniors they are not alone.  Especially in cases when there is memory impairment; it is good to have someone represent the needs and preferences of the senior.”

Wayne agrees, adding, “Many times family will be able to ask questions or raise concerns that may not have dawned on the potential resident.”

Another consideration that must be taken into account in this multi-cultural province is providing care for seniors from different backgrounds. Sometimes this can complicate the care process greatly, and not just due to language barriers. The care of senior family members is not universal across the world, and expectations are just as diverse as the lands from which these seniors originate.

“Many cultural groups experience a very hard transition to care for their parent,” says Loraine. “It has been an expectation of certain cultures that the child or spouse would always be there to provide care, but at the point of admission to a facility such as ours, the parent’s care is far more complex and demanding than home support can provide. Added to that is the increased stress of working outside the home and family pressures. We provide flexibility in visiting hours and try to accommodate families, within reason, to participate in their loved one’s care. We value the family input. In many instances, the family can be of excellent assistance when behaviours are challenging.”

No matter the amount of care required or type of residence, one thing everyone agrees on is that good communication and an honest, open approach works best. The senior needing to move, the family members trying to help and the facility workers themselves all have one thing in mind: finding the best living situation for each individual.

At Sunrise in Victoria some families visit first without the parent.  “Sometimes we do have children come ahead or have a tour of the home first,” says Christa. During those times, the children can be very honest and realistic of their parent’s situation and their needs without embarrassing their parent. And then we ask them to come for a second tour with the parent and tour them again with a more resident-focused tour. Because the seniors are always nervous or have previous perceptions of a care home, this is the time to gently introduce our home.”

Pre-planning is important says Wayne: “The best way to make things work well is cooperation and collaboration. Bringing everyone together to discuss the process in advance is always best. Talking about the transition process, from downsizing to selling their homes, arranging how their new home will be furnished, or planning for future care needs.”

Each family is unique and not all siblings see eye to eye on even basic issues, let alone major decisions regarding the care of their parents.  While no personnel at a residence would want to interfere with family dynamics, each has its own techniques to help siblings when there are disagreements.

“When there are challenges between family members, we always identify the Power of Attorney and the Healthcare Representative when it comes to making decisions on behalf of the resident,” says Christa. “There are always family meetings, and we encourage all parties to be at least part of the conversation.”

“There are times when a child is not in favour of the move or is not sure about our home. We invite them to come have a tour and ask all the questions they may have to be more confident in making the right decision or to be on board with the rest of the family.”

Berwick on the Lake takes a similar approach. “We do see families from time to time that do not always agree on what is best for mom or dad,” says Wayne. “When this occurs, I usually describe myself as ‘Switzerland.’ We talk to different family members and offer an avenue that removes the emotional component, or historical rifts that may hinder families as they navigate through the process.”

One area that has definitely changed in choosing a residence is the advances made in social media and modern technology. Not only do the residences have websites, often with virtual tours, but family members of potential residents are turning to smart phones, laptop computers, tablets, Skype and other methods to stay in touch, help siblings who live farther away and even make life better for their parent in the care home.  

Wayne says his wife calls him a computer nerd with social skills. “We had a family member approach us this week to set up a video link so a 97-year-old resident could virtually attend a memorial service for a beloved cousin in Ontario. We are constantly updating our website and I would suggest, in the not too distant future, we will have virtual tours available.”

But despite advances in technology, nothing replaces the human touch.  “We have a website with pictures and information provided,” says Loraine. “Many families have accessed this site prior to contacting the facility. One thing I always stress is to trust their own instincts. For instance, do you feel welcomed? Does the facility smell? Does it look clean? How do the residents look… are they appropriately dressed, engaged in activities? Does the staff smile, say hello? These observations are very valuable and of considerable assistance in making a decision as to choosing a facility for care.”

 

AUGUST 2013 SENIOR LIVING MAGAZINE

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