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You may have heard the term Games People Play. We have all dealt with game playing by others in our careers and in our lives. However, it also rears its ugly head with caregiving and often among family members. If you are the primary caregiver for a loved one you will feel the effects much more deeply than others. Here is what to watch out for and how to deal with it:

I’D RATHER DO IT MYSELF – Over many years with a career in aging services I have observed seniors who try to clean gutters or reach high up in closets who end up falling with very bad results. They often are worried about being a burden to their children or are simply too impatient to wait for help to arrive.  Encourage them to wait for you and assure them that you will help out. You can also help them utilize the many services available now for delivery of groceries, transportation, household chores, etc. Go to caregiversbestfriend.org to learn more about what is available.

I’VE GOT A SECRET – Parents may also use this gambit since they fear once again being a burden or a loss of independence. They may be having issues with paying bills, dealing with nutrition or even having a trip to the hospital which they keep from you. Daily contact is a good idea since things can change at a moment’s notice. When you go to visit check out their refrigerator and pay attention to telltale signs such as bills piling up. Ask them how they are doing with their medications and go through them together. You can also purchase an automatic pill dispenser to help assure compliance. Acting on these issues early on can prevent a downslide to a more acute situation and help them maintain their independence.  

THE LITTLE RED HEN - You may recall this famous children’s story about the chicks who did not want to plant the grain or sow it but were all out when it came to eating the bread. Sometimes family members can act like those chicks. They can put on a good act and look like the golden child but are never there for the heavy lifting. One woman told me that her brother irked her to no end since he lived across the country and did nothing to help out. However, when there was a family event he would come to town and push their mom around in her wheelchair greeting the crowd and acting like “the crown prince”.  The best way to deal with this is to have an initial family meeting and periodic ones to create a plan of action. Everyone needs to take on assignments. Even long distance caregivers can help out with research, insurances, taxes, etc.  A new service which can help for families who are spread across the country is long distance mediation with a neutral professional. This is especially true when there is a lot of conflict in the family. Contact mediation-omc.org for further information.

THE OUT OF TOWN EXPERT – There is nothing more frustrating as a primary caregiver than to invest so much of your life into making sure you are providing the best possible life for your parents only to have a disengaged long-distance relative come to town and tell you all the things you are doing wrong! Make sure to document what you are doing. Also, this is where family meetings are so key. If you have consensus among the majority of the caregiver stakeholders they can be an asset to you.  If it becomes extreme you may need to have an intervention and let them know that they are not in charge of the process. Be willing to listen but hold firm.

Lynn Alexander, Senior VP & CMO for PVM - Guest Blogger

Lynn Alexander

Lynn Alexander is known as a thought leader and policy influencer. She currently serves as Senior Vice President & Chief Marketing Officer for Presbyterian Villages of Michigan (PVM) and in a dual role as President/CEO of Your Aging Well Advisors. She is also serving her second term as the Vice Chair for Michigan Health Endowment Fund. Ms. Alexander is a former Cabinet Official for Michigan Governor John Engler. Prior to her government service, Ms. Alexander was a frequently requested speaker for Fortune 500 corporations, specializing in public speaking and communication.

As the director of the Michigan Office of Services to the Aging (OSA), she was responsible for leading a state-wide network of programs and services as well as serving as an advisor to the Governor and Michigan Legislature. Under her leadership the agency launched innovative programs, which included the expansion of home and community based services as well as a state-of-the-art interactive website. OSA was the first state agency to be launched under the eMichigan program, and the first to conduct a Malcolm Baldridge quality survey. During her tenure OSA spearheaded the development of a highly successful long-term care education campaign and the creation of a long-term care insurance benefit for State of Michigan employees and their families.

As Senior Vice President & Chief Marketing Officer for PVM, she is responsible for planning, organizing, implementing and evaluating all public relations and government affairs and supervises the Sales & Marketing and Wellness departments. She earned a BSW from Defiance College and an MA from the University of San Francisco (Lone Mt. College).

Active in her community, Ms. Alexander was a founding co-chair of the Oakland County SAVE Task Force (Serving Adults Who are Vulnerable and/or Elderly), to combat elder abuse and exploitation. For over twenty years Lynn has served on several boards for The Institute of Gerontology at Wayne State University. Her career has also included working as a member of the Oakland County Executive office. Many organizations have recognized her leadership with awards, most recently with the Call To Justice Leadership Award from Elder Law of Michigan, the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Area Agency on Aging 1B and the Liberty Award by the Oakland County Bar Association. Ms. Alexander is the author of Caregiver Tsunami, a guide to caregivers.

She is married to Oakland County Judge Jim Alexander. They have a son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter who live in Indiana.