One night in August I came home to find a voice mail message from a woman who said an aunt had told her to contact me. She needed advice about home health aides. Her father was coming home from the hospital.
When I phoned the Florida number I learned that Mary lives and works in New Jersey. Her healthy, Florida-living father (age 83) had his annual physical, was sent to a cardiologist, and thought it was no big deal. Although he told Mary, an only child, not to bother coming to Florida, she took a week off work and went. Father ended up with successful bypass surgery, but an infection followed, and he was now in an intermediate care/rehab facility about to be released.She needed reliable temporary help for her dad when he went home.
I suggested the hospital social worker whom, it turns out, she had met with. She said she had “around a hundred” names of agencies etc. and didn’t know where to begin. While medicine’s not my competency, when there’s a chance to empower a parent I grab it.
After being told her father was very independent and mentally capable, I asked if her father preferred a male or female aide (hadn’t entered Mary’s mind, she said). I explained some men prefer men for obvious reasons or because they don’t appreciate the nurturing nature (“Honey,” “Sweetie”– they want “Boss”). Having this kind of conversation with him is affirming and empowering. He would begin to feel some control, providing the potential for a better result.
I also asked if there were family or close friends living near her dad. None. He and his girlfriend ended their relationship some months before and since she was in her early 90’s, Mary didn’t think she could be much help anyway.
We discussed the importance of contacting an agency where the workers were bonded to ensure—as much as possible—that nothing would be stolen (a major problem and concern). Her response that her father had nothing of value in his condo made me think how violated and insecure we would feel if someone we depended on came into our home and took anything without asking and I mentioned this. I then added older people, like my dad, often balked at paying additional monies to an agency. Mary quipped “Are your dad and my dad brothers?” She had a plan.
“Empower” is usually not one of the first words we think of when it comes to older people. More often we hear that we should “preserve” older people’s independence, “preserve” their dignity. There is nothing wrong with that. Yet it’s a static concept. “Preserve”–hold onto. Think about children. We try to empower, move them forward– not “preserve.” Can we apply this to older people?
Mary’s father had no major issues until now. While we never know when our parents’ first “aging event” will occur, we do know that when we can find ways to empower, regardless of the situation, parents feel respect, feel some control, and everyone benefits.