Peter Campbell's elderly Mom on Mad Men

The television show Mad Men recently portrayed a senior care scenario full of drama and intrigue.  Though it’s a T.V. drama, it’s unfortunately the type of scenario families do face in real life (or at least some parts of it).   Here we’ll share some details of what happened on Mad Men and steps you can take to avoid so much drama in your real life caregiving experiences.

For those unfamiliar with the show, one of the advertising partners, Peter Campbell, was dealing with an increasingly problematic aging mother.  She was likely in the early stages of dementia (possibly related to/exacerbated by drinking) and would get confused, forgetful and often agitated and belligerent.  She had driven away many professional caregivers and her son was at wit’s end, especially since his life was filled with plenty of other problems.

Peter confided his problems to one of the other partners who mentioned it to someone else working at the firm.  He recommended a nurse, Manolo, who had supposedly done wonders for his family.  It seemed to work out splendidly, until Peter’s Mom confided about the “romance” budding between the two (sharing some intimate details with one of Peter’s coworkers too).  Since some of you may record episodes to watch in the future, I won’t give away all the details, but obviously the situation continued to be fraught with complication…and ended in true dramatic/tragic fashion.

Working in the senior caregiving business, we watched the scenario playing out with great interest.  There was a bit of dismay since caregiving is often portrayed with such negative pictures (in other words, the professional caregiver taking advantage or romancing an elderly person for money/other gain).  Most caregivers are wonderful, dedicated people with great hearts.  Unfortunately, those stories don’t make for great T.V. (whether a drama or the news).  But, if you’d like to hear some of the “good news”, we invite you to check out our recent Inspirational Caregiver Award winners in our Home Healthcare News section.

However, many of the issues Pete and his family faced are things other families encounter.  Dealing with the “difficult” elder family member, especially someone who has early stages of dementia in which they forget or become paranoid but are angry and lash out, can be overwhelming. Many families struggle to find qualified caregivers who can help and can manage these challenges.  And, unfortunately, a lot of families can tell you about negative experiences with professional caregivers, especially when found through casual networks and acquaintances referrals.

There are not always easy solutions and you can’t prevent every problem, but here are some tips to help you avoid the Mad Men caregiving drama:

  1. When a family member shows behavioral symptoms or early signs of dementia, get professional help sooner than later.  Look in to a diagnostic workup and what resources might be available to help, even if you don’t immediately avail yourself of them.  It gives you somewhere to turn when things go wrong, a crisis occurs, or family members need help.
  2. To build upon #1, don’t overly rely on neighbors, friends, and family for care duties.  Think about getting some professional help in…before Mom gets lost, your brother is at his wit’s end, and the landlord is kicking Mom out of the building.
  3. Hire an agency…the right one.  Find out how an agency hires and trains its caregivers.  Tell them (honestly) about your elderly parent and all his/her foibles (check out: Doing Your Part When Hiring a Home Health Agency and our Respite Care checklist for ideas).  Get a feeling for the questions they ask and how they would deal with the situation.  What will they do to locate the best caregiver(s) for the job?  How will they handle things if that caregiver does not work out?  How do they help the caregiver deal with challenges that arise?  You can read more in Five Tips for Choosing a Quality Home Care Provider and browse our many “quality home care” posts for further ideas and tips.
  4. Find home caregivers with experience dealing with dementia and similar behaviors to those of your parent.  You may feel like no one can help and the situation is impossible, but you might be surprised by  how creatively and effectively caregivers may be able to deal with some of these challenges.  Unlike Manolo’s approach, many caregivers have appropriate techniques for dealing with different scenarios and building a good relationship with your loved one.
  5. Consider hiring a geriatric care manager to help.  A care manager would have been a great asset for Peter Campbell (though they didn’t exist at the time) as a busy professional with so many competing demands.  A geriatric care manager could help consult with you on solutions and arrange services (recommend quality agencies and various types of help), discuss ways to approach your loved one (or do it with you) and deal with different behaviors, oversee care and more. 
  6. Dig deeper when you get referrals from acquaintances.  First of all, understand the implications of hiring someone on your own.  You are responsible for checking backgrounds, hiring (and payment, taxes, other employment issues) and dealing with any issues that arise.  You don’t have a supervisor to call or an agency to provide backup if something goes wrong (or the person just gets sick or needs time off).  When you get any type of recommendation from someone, that can be a good starting point, but don’t let it convince you not to do your homework.
  7. When preventative steps fail, a good agency is there to take responsibility and help you clean up the situation.  Check your state’s rules, but a home health agency will typically be required to carry liability insurance and worker’s compensation on employees (different states have different regulations and types of agencies).  If you have a concern (even just a feeling or worry that the caregiver is a personality mismatch), contact the agency sooner than later.  A quality home care agency will be responsive to reasonable concerns and may be able to offer proactive solutions.  If something does go wrong, you have someone to deal with and take accountability as well as help you to resolve the issue.

Real life can be as dramatic as television.  That’s the last thing you want when it come to senior caregiving.  Take some precautions and get linked up with the right resources, to minimize the potential drama in your life.  Family dynamics and the challenges of caregiving are hard enough.  Caring, quality professional caregivers should ease some of that tension, not cause more.

Want quality help without the drama?  Call EasyLiving today for senior caregiving assistance in Pinellas and Pasco counties: 727-448-0900.  Our Senior Care Consultant, Sue Talbott, will serve you much better than Peter’s advertising agency colleagues did…we promise!

**Image from Mad