Apply compassion throughout Mother’s grief over dropping a trusted caregiver

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Dear Carol, my mother has been alone since dad died five years ago. She had multiple strokes but was fine until the last when it turned out that she needed someone to help her shower, prepare some meals, and provide companionship. At first she struggled to have someone with her, but she eventually gave in and eventually got close to a woman who lives nearby and comes in daily.

This supervisor will be leaving town in a few weeks because her husband has changed jobs. Mom is already mourning this loss, which is understandable, but she doesn’t want to start over with anyone. She says she will be fine on her own. She won’t. How can we convince them to try a new caregiver through an agency? – KS.

Dear KS, this is such a difficult yet common situation. When the elderly are tied to a caregiver who has to leave, the experience only adds to the pile of losses most have already suffered. My family saw this in my uncle’s carers. With daily mentoring, there were some rotations, but he had two supervisors who were definitely favorites and was looking forward to their company.

Is it possible to start early with this nurse and one from an agency? That way, the senior caregiver could introduce the new person to your mother and train the new caregiver about your mother’s needs and preferences.

Perhaps more importantly, just transferring the trust factor. If the longtime caregiver introduces you and stays around for a scheduled time, your mother should be more comfortable. Ideally, they could get together for several days, although the longtime caregiver could leave earlier each day to give your mother time with the new person.

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If this approach is not possible or too expensive, you can tell your mother that each caregiver is only there for a sample, but she needs to give them time to see if they can become compatible. You may need to try different agencies, but if at some point your mom can take on a caregiver, it will be well worth your time.

Another option is that you can suggest assisted living to your mother. If you’ve already discussed this option, now may be time to make this change as the change is happening anyway. Even if you haven’t talked about assisted living in the past, now may be the time to at least think about the idea. For socially minded people, it can be attractive because of the activities that have resumed in some locations.

Don’t push assisted living at this point unless she shows interest. Just remind her that this is the only alternative if she cannot learn to hire a new home carer.

Remember that your mother is grieving at the loss of a friend and has to accept a big change all at once. Present ideas, but assure her that you will try to make any of her decisions workable, except leave her without the help she needs.

Carol Bradley Bursack is a seasoned nurse and established columnist. She is also a blogger and author of Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories. Bradley Bursack hosts a website supporting carers and elders at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached using the contact form on her website.