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MINDING OUR ELDERS: Changing caregivers can be traumatic for elder

Carol Bursack of Minding Our Elders

Dear Carol: My dad has been a widower for years. Because of a stroke history, he needs someone around, at least during the day, so we started in-home care with an agency. Unfortunately, that didn't work out, but we got lucky and the sister of a neighbor was available for hire. She and Dad became a real team. Now, this caregiver is having her own health problems and is moving out of town. Dad insists that he won't have anyone else. He says that he'd rather be alone which isn't an option. How do we get him to give a new caregiver a chance? — AM

Dear AM: I don't envy your challenge. People get used to one caregiver and if the fit is right, the person becomes a friend. When that caregiver is no longer available, the problem isn't only about changing caregivers, but the loss of a friend, so it's tough on the elder. This is especially significant because most of them have already suffered so many other losses.

My first thought is that if the caregiver he likes hasn't yet moved, perhaps she could come along with your new hire whether this is done through an agency or a private arrangement. If the original caregiver introduces the new one, and they act friendly in front of your dad, it may aid the transition. If possible, the original caregiver could stay around for part of the first day and then come and go for a few days while your dad adjusts.

It's also possible that your dad may surprise you once he's pressed. Explain that he may have to try several caregivers, but he is free to say no once he's given them a chance. We used an agency for my uncle's caregivers and after some time three of them turned out to be good fits, with two favorites. Eventually, he grew accustomed to the rotation of the three women.

Another option could be that you use this opportunity to help your dad consider a move to an assisted living facility. Since he's forced into making a change at this point, if you've discussed this option with him before now could be the time to make the change. If you haven't discussed it, this may be the time to take your dad to look at some of the ALFs in your area. Even if he resists making such a change, you can plant the seed. Highlight the social aspects of AL, especially male-oriented activities.

I wouldn't insist on him moving if he's not ready. Just let him see what's out there. Then try new caregivers as mentioned above. If you find someone who is a great fit, then you're set. If not, you could once more suggest to your dad that a move to an ALF may take care of the situation.

Try to be gentle and let your dad make decisions. Assure him that you'll go along with any choice except leaving him alone, unattended.