How to Shorten the Elder Care Crisis

By Franklin Drazen, CELA

Many people who call my office are in the midst of an elder care crisis, but they can’t see it.

What is an elder care crisis? It’s what happens when the older adult has a problem that throws the family into chaos. It could be a medical event, a fall, an accident, a car wreck, or something else.

For these families, the elder care crisis isn’t a special event. It’s an everyday occurrence.

Things have to get really bad for these family caregivers to pick up the phone and ask for our help, and when they do, the help they often request will fix only a small fraction of the problem. For instance, a man with advanced Alzheimer’s disease who is still living at home mistakes his wife for an intruder and attacks her. She is in a coma in the hospital, and the kids call me for help with asset protection.

Most families don’t come to me after the first crisis, because they don’t recognize their situation as a crisis. Let’s say your elderly mother falls, breaks a bone, and ends up in the hospital. After spending a month in rehab, she comes home. Medicare provides help for a few weeks, but after that ends, Mom tells you she doesn’t need any help. You know she does and that it’s only a matter of time before something else happens, which means you and your siblings are on pins and needles waiting for the next emergency. When that happens, as it always does, everybody jumps. You and your siblings spend all your time and resources taking care of that crisis and the stress it creates, only to bring her home and repeat the same sorry cycle again and again. Usually, people don’t realize there is a different way to deal with these concerns.

In my work as an elder law attorney, I look for fact patterns, and this is a common one. Families like these are going from crisis to crisis to crisis. There’s no peace for anyone.

However, my clients who opt for Life Care Plans don’t experience these crises. When the day comes that Mom needs help or can’t stay at home anymore, her children are prepared. This kind of planning turns every crisis into a transition, removing the chaos and stress from the equation.

When I compare the faces and demeanor of people when they arrive for their initial meeting with me to how they appear when they leave hire us, the difference is striking. They almost always come in with long faces showing the pressure they feel. Often the caregivers are under so much stress that they can’t answer even the simplest questions. If other family members attend this first meeting, it’s easy to see the conflict simmering under the surface. After these people hire us to create a Life Care Plan for their loved one, the stress drains away. You can see it on their faces. Their think can clearly again. They can plan. They can smile. They can go back to being a spouse, a son, a daughter, a loved one. Family harmony is often restored. It’s wonderful to watch and to be part of.

One of the biggest reasons families linger for weeks, months, or even years in crisis mode involves the adult children. In many cases, the kids are unwilling to accept the role reversal that often happens as parents age. The children need to step into the role of the parent, and some put it off for as long as possible, even if the older adult has a condition like dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. The kids are still looking to their parent for approval, validation, agreement, and logic.

When the adult children resist taking the reins, it’s my job to help them understand what’s at stake. This requires finesse. “You have the power of attorney, right?” I asked the Melissa, the daughter of woman with dementia who was looking for her mother to make the final decision about moving to memory care. “You’re the trustee of her trust, right? You make her medical decisions for her, right?”

Melissa nodded.

What I said next is obvious to me, but it rarely occurs to most adult children in the throes of a never-ending elder care crisis.

"Do you know why your mom put you in those roles?” I asked. “She did it because she trusted you to make the right decisions when she needs help. By looking to Mom to be the adult, you are making things far more difficult for her. You're looking at her to be the adult. Mom can't relax because you're telling her you can't make the decision. If you want to be kind to your mother, you will step up and make the decision. It will work for  both of you.”

That’s how you keep the elder care crisis from going on forever.

Franklin Drazen is a Certified Elder Law Attorney and the founding member of Drazen Rubin Law, a Life Care Planning Law Firm in Milford, Connecticut.