When a Caregiver Can't Let Go

An older loved one needs care. A family member steps up. The elder’s condition worsens, and the burden on the caregiver increases. Outsiders can see that the elder needs more help, but the family caregiver can’t let go. What are the options? We posed this question to Carolyn Northrop, the elder care coordinator at Strohschein Law Group, a Life Care Planning Law Firm in St. Charles, Illinois.

Why do caregivers have trouble letting go? There are as many reasons as there are caregivers. Some have difficulty asking for help. Some promised to be the only caregiver. Others are convinced that no one can provide care as well as they do. Some may be uncomfortable having strangers in their home. Still others are afraid of losing control.

When confronted with caregivers who seem overly attached to their role, Carolyn focuses first on what the elder needs in the way of care. In many cases, the care needs are so great that a facility is the ideal setting. “The first thing we do is to look for ways to support the person who needs care while giving the family caregiver some time off,” Carolyn explained. “We take baby steps.”

The elder’s extended family is the first place Carolyn looks for help. “We will find out if there are relatives who could help, and then set up a schedule with different family members covering each day of the week,” she said.

If no family members are available or the family is too small to cover all the needs, reaching out to friends is the next move. If the older adult has the financial resources, hiring an in-home care company to cover the primary caregiver’s day off is another alternative. Community-based programs can also offer relief.

If care in a facility might be the best way to meet the elder’s needs, but family caregivers are resistant, Carolyn will often suggest a respite program. “Many long-term care facilities will take an elder for anywhere from one to six weeks,” Carolyn explained. “The elder gets to stay in a facility with 24-hour care where all their needs are met, and the caregiver gets a chance to experience a more normal life. It’s a trial to see how everybody does. Some of my clients will agree to try it for two weeks and see how it goes. When we hit the second week, most are open to extending the respite stay for another week or more."

For family caregivers, a respite stay is often a much-needed wakeup call. “Many people don’t realize how much they needed a break until they’re forced to take one,” Carolyn said. “The time away helps the reality of the situation come into focus. Most can see that the way they were doing things was unsustainable over the long run.”

Respite programs are an excellent way to help reluctant family caregivers feel better about care options that they once ruled out. “When they see how well their loved one was being taken care of in the facility, many family caregivers find themselves more open to the possibility of a longer-term placement,” Carolyn added. “Getting their lives back is just icing on the cake.”

To benefit from the guidance of an elder care coordinator like Carolyn Northrop, find a Life Care Planning Law Firm near you.