September 27, 2012

Your Advocacy Connection – How the Red Flags Can Bond a Family

By Julie Arndt
GolderCare Solutions

Offering Comprehensive Long Term Care Solutions and Patient Advocacy

I am the youngest of six. For those of you who endure this lovely place in the family line, you know your voice is often not heard. I have multiple healthcare professionals in my family, ranging from doctors, nurses, medical social workers…you name it. I’ve practiced social work my entire professional life. I’ve guided countless people through the very difficult decision of when to place their parent in a nursing facility. One day, my own mother posed the question, “Jule (that’s what she calls me), how will you kids know when I need to go somewhere?” I found my voice and fell back on my standard responses about the “red flags,” those markers that indicate the time is drawing near to consider some type of a change in one’s living situation. It was two years ago when this discussion was initiated by my mom. Over the course of the next two years, we as a family have recounted those flags multiple times to my mom and to each other, often providing her peace of mind knowing where she was at on her journey, while giving her some semblance of control and understanding along the way. What we didn’t anticipate is how those flags also bonded us as family, keeping us on the same page, keeping us grounded to what we know works.

Last month, the “time” came for my mom to go “somewhere else.” She has endured this transition with gentle acceptance and a sense of dignity that makes me so very proud of her. It reminds me of how important it is to communicate to those we love about the “flags,” so they know what is coming and when. As we sat around the kitchen table, the hospice nurse brought up the topic of nursing home placement, and my mom looked at me. It was clear to us kids that it was time. It was clear to the nurse, but my mom just needed to revisit those flags one more time and resolve in her mind that she had done what she could to remain in her home as long as she could. In my mom’s case, with the very dedicated support of close family (I’m the one who lives three hours away) and a wonderful hospice team, she was able to stay at home just short of the point when it was becoming unsafe for her to be left alone. The experience of finding herself in this situation scared her a bit (and us), and we believe it is from that experience that she has found the strength to decide herself that she needed more help then what was available to her at home.

We are stunned and delightfully surprised at how she has taken to being cared for in the only nursing facility in my home town. She now has visitors who had long since stopped coming to the farm to visit her. She looks around and sees friends and neighbors, some who are also residents, some who come for regular friendly visits. She is not alone.

As my siblings and I reflect in awe at how well she is accepting this final chapter of her life, we conclude that by addressing Mom’s questions head on early in the process, defining what “red flags” she would be on the lookout for and finally realizing herself that she needs care, has made all the difference in her embracing this life altering transition in a positive way. This effort has served to strengthen us as a family unit, making us collectively supportive of her and of each other.

Julie Arndt is a licensed social worker working in the field of geriatrics for over 25 years with expertise in medical case management and community based services.