Saturday, November 7, 2015

Having The "Talk" With Your Parents About Nursing Home Care

One of the hardest conversations children can have with their elderly parents is about when it is time to consider nursing home care. And no wonder; it's not easy for seniors to acknowledge they are not longer capable of independent living. But not talking about it isn't an option, either. A conference in Winnipeg on Nov. 14 aims to help children and their parents talk about this challenging subject.

When my parents were no longer able to look after themselves in their own home, I was fortunate enough to find them a great nursing home to live out their final days.

The need to help them came on me suddenly when both my mother and father experienced medical emergencies at the same time. In the opinion of their doctors, they could no longer take care of themselves—they needed long-term care.

I had about a week to find them a new place to live before my dad was discharged from the hospital.

This is not the way I imagined the process would go.

I had hoped we could talk about it beforehand, and begin making arrangements. But every time I brought up the subject, my dad emphatically insisted he was going to “die in his own home!”

And that was the end of the discussion.

But now they had no choice. The nursing home they preferred had no room, so I had to find them temporary housing in another facility. It took about a year before space opened up in the place they wanted to live.

During that time, I learned a lot about the incredible stress the medical system is under when it comes to assisting seniors—there are too many people needing care, and often not enough beds, or no beds in the place people want to go. And the demand is only growing.

My situation is not unique. Many children of aging parents wonder how they can have a conversation with them about long-term care before an emergency changes everything. In some cases, seniors might want to bring it up, but are fearful of where it might lead.

For many, it can be a stressful experience.

Helping children and aging parents start those conversations is the goal of Caring for Body, Mind and Spirit As Loved Ones Age, a November 14 conference sponsored by the Concordia Hospital Department of Spiritual Care.

The conference, which runs from 9 AM to 4 PM at Douglas Mennonite Church ,  1517 Rothesay St. in Winnipeg , will include sessions on aging and long-term care options.

Among the presenters is former pastor John Neufeld, who will talk about the experience of aging; Gina Trinidad, Chief Operating Officer for the Deer Lodge Centre and the WRHA Long Term Care Program, will speak about navigating the journey to long-term care; and Kathleen Rempel Boschman, Manger of Spiritual Care at Concordia Hospital, will describe the options available as people age.

There will also be a session featuring first-hand accounts from those who have recently walked, or who are still walking, the care-giving journey with aging parents.

For Gerry Derksen, chaplain at Concordia Place, the conference is a chance for children and their older parents to find ways to begin talking about the challenges and opportunities of aging.

“Aging is part of the journey that people are called to deal with,” he says. “It holds opportunities for growth. We want to facilitate conversation between children and parents that can help people make good choices related to independent living, and to end of life.”

Through his work with seniors, Derksen knows there are lots of challenges facing people with aging parents today.

For example, families are smaller, and more spread out, which means the care of parents falls on fewer children. In some cases, seniors have no children living nearby.

Also, with most people today in the workforce, there are fewer people who have the time and flexibility to respond to the needs of aging parents.

As well, since fewer people attend church or other places of worship today, many seniors don’t have a built-in religious community that can provide additional support.

The result is that when decisions need to be quickly made about care, due to a medical emergency, families can find themselves overwhelmed.

“People find themselves suddenly needing to talk about the realities that go along with this stage of life,” Derksen says. “Many aren’t ready for that discussion.”

By attending the conference, he hopes more children and parents will find ways to begin the conversation—before a crisis hits.

Cost for the conference is $35, including lunch. Registration closes on November 10. To register, call Melanie Clarke at 661-7481. More information can be found here. 

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