Rewarding Work And Time to Care for Loved Ones
The Three Stages of Elder Care
An occasional personal commentary on work life integration by Jessica DeGroot, ThirdPath’s Founder and President
That handsome couple in the photo are my in-laws. In the Fall my father-in-law suddenly got very sick. But being blessed with four parents who are in their 80s – it gave me and my husband a glimpse into the next chapter of how we will be balancing work and caregiving.
I talked about this with Amy Goyer, an aging and families expert, on our May Thursdays with ThirdPath webinar. Click on the SoundCloud icon to hear how the skills my husband and I developed sharing in the care of our children will come in handy in this next chapter of our lives.
Or read on as I share some of the things I learned figuring out how to integrate elder care into my work and life.
Stage 1 – The Crisis – As my husband Jeff and I dropped our youngest off at college, and imagined our new lives as empty nesters, my father-in-law was admitted to a hospital after a fall, and experienced “hospital induced delirium.” This is a sudden change in a patient’s mental state that looks like full onset Alzheimer’s. 20% of elderly patients get this. Some recover in 24 hours. For my father-in-law, it took almost 4 months. Suddenly our lives were turned upside down trying to understand the problem and figure out what we could do to help him return to his previously healthy state.
Stage 2 – The Continued Investment in Time – Within a week he was moved to a rehab facility. Once there he received a schedule of regular activities to help with his recovery, but it was also clear having people he knew spend time with him was critical to his progress. When left alone, he would regress. But when we made sure a family member was there from breakfast through dinner to talk, read, watch TV and play cards with him, he slowly recovered. Eventually he returned to his own home – at first with 24 hour care – but in time, even this was reduced and then eliminated.
Stage 3 – The “New Normal” – Read Atul Gawande’s book, Being Mortal, and you will understand where we are today. Yes, my father-in-law has significantly recovered. And yes, things could have been much worse. But for most of us, this stage in life brings with it a slow decline in our abilities. Jeff and I also know that stage 3 is the “pre-crisis” stage. And at some unexpected future point, we will both inevitably be dealing with another crisis.
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- Jeff and I have a long history of working as a team to share in the care of our children, and we both equally value creating time for family.
- We both also have a long history of redesigning work to create more time for life. We were both quickly able to reapply these skills to create time (and energy) for this latest change.
- We knew by sharing in my father-in-law’s care – and having someone we 100% trusted help with this care – it freed us up to focus on other things, including the time we needed to spend at work.
- We also knew that when we disagreed about what needed to be done, we had successfully worked out these differences in the past. It was reassuring to know that the flare ups around elder care was just one of the steps towards finding greater common ground.
My father-in-law has recovered, but as Atul Gawande describes in his book, for many of us the end won’t come quickly, instead “the curve of life becomes a long slow fade.” This won’t be the last time one of our parents will need our help. But when men and women work together to provide this care, we will all be better able to manage the changes.
Want help redesigning work to create more time to care for children, an aging parent, or to care for yourself?
During the month of June you can sign up for a free 30 minute consultation with Jessica DeGroot, president and founder of ThirdPath Institute. Go to our “TimeTrade” link and let us know what you’d like to talk about.