By Elizabeth Guttenberg, LMSW, Senior Care Advisor
Q: My husband and I will be flying across the country to visit his father next month. My father-in-law has not been well the past year and he’s often reticent to share details about how he is faring. We know he needs more help at home and managing his medical conditions, but don’t know where to start. Can you provide a checklist that will help us begin figuring out what he needs?
This situation will likely present some tough challenges for you and your husband, especially given that you are long-distance caregivers. I have provided a brief checklist below, but you may want to consider how to approach conversations with your father-in-law about his needs rather than just focusing on the information to be gathered. It will be tempting to show up and ask a slew of questions. Naturally you will want to learn as much as you can in a limited time span to better ensure your father-in-law’s safety. However, in my experience this approach can make it more challenging to gather information, as your father-in-law may feel his independence or way of life is being threatened.
It’s helpful to start by focusing on your connection with your father-in-law, rather than immediately asking about what kind of help he needs. Take time to enjoy being in each other’s company. See if your father-in-law brings up his health in conversation. That offers you a great opportunity to ask about how he is managing day-to-day and whether he has concerns (for example with meal preparation, running errands or driving). Try to use open-ended questions and resist the urge to provide immediate solutions. Instead focus on understanding your father-in-law’s perspective. A strong partnership can be critical to his accepting help.
Below is specific information that will be helpful to gather.
- Ask your father-in-law about his physical health, diagnoses and what (if anything) he is doing to treat them. Do you notice changes in his memory, ability to retrieve words, and think clearly?
- Determine if he has sought assistance from a doctor(s) about these issues. Ask what medications he is taking and if he knows of any side effects.
Personal Care Needs
- Does your father-in-law appear clean and well-groomed?
- When he walks, note if he grabs onto surrounding objects for support.
- Are there piles of unopened mail, including bills? Is the home clean and orderly and is there fresh food in the fridge?
- If he is still driving, note if this represents a hazard for him and others. If not, ask how he gets to appointments and errands.
- Does he see people on most days, or is he isolated from others? Is this different than the way he used to be?
Financial & Legal
- Does he have savings or monthly income? If so, through what sources (e.g. Social Security or pension payments)?
- Ask if he is covered by Medicare, Medicaid, or if he has a long-term care policy, Veteran’s, or Survivor’s benefits.
- Has he written a will and completed important documents such as a Power of Attorney and Health Care Proxy?
My biggest piece of advice—go easy on yourself and know that you may not gather all of this information in one visit. Remember, this is the first step and from here you can make a plan to gather additional information and address the most concerning issues. A Senior Care Advisor can help you tackle the tough issues and prepare for conversations with your father-in-law regarding the more sensitive topics.
Contact a Senior Care Advisor at Care.com. We are master’s-level social workers specializing in adult and senior care.
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