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The Life Transition Blog

Benefits of Working With a Family Transition Coach


I am often asked to describe the benefits derived by adult children of aging parents when they elect to work with a family transition coach. Perhaps the best way to answer this question is through an example. I've changed some of the personal details to preserve the privacy of those involved, but the situation itself is based on a real situation from my practice.

Jennifer found me by reading an article I had written and published about family transition coaching in a local senior resource publication. I was in a meeting when she initially called, so she left a voice mail message that began, "I really need help, and I need it fast!" When I called Jennifer back, she told me that she is one of four siblings and the long distance caregiver for her mother Nancy. Nancy lives in southwest Florida and Jennifer lives in Michigan. Jennifer's siblings are scattered across several states, but none live near their mother.

Nancy is 84 and suffers from memory loss and some confusion. She is otherwise in good health and remains fairly active. Ever since Dad died six years ago, Nancy has been managing herself. She continues to live in the condo that she and Dad moved to in 1995 when they first relocated to Florida and until recently has maintained an active social life with her friends from church. Jennifer usually visits Nancy a few times each year; her siblings visit less frequently. Several months ago, when Jennifer came to visit, she noticed that Nancy seemed confused and somewhat withdrawn. Jennifer accompanied Nancy to her doctor's appointment and learned that Nancy's condition is considered to be "age related memory impairment." It was explained that this is a "normal part of aging" and that "there is nothing to worry about." Nancy assured Jennifer that she was fine and still able to manage on her own.

Several weeks after returning home from that visit, Jennifer called Nancy for her regular check-in and found her agitated and confused. She became extremely concerned, and called Nancy's neighbor and asked her to check on Nancy. When the neighbor called back, she told Jennifer that Nancy seemed okay. The next morning, Nancy didn't answer the phone when Jennifer called, and didn't respond to a knock on the door by the same neighbor whom Jennifer had called again. Fearing the worst, Jennifer called 911 who responded and took Nancy to the hospital. It turns out that Nancy suffered a stroke. Jennifer jumped on a plane to come to be with Nancy. She has taken on the role of primary long distance caregiver by default. The family has never discussed Nancy's situation as a group.

That's when Jennifer called me. She knew that she had to return home to her job and her family within a few days and was in a panic about what would happen to Nancy. At the same time, she was getting frustrated trying to convey information to her siblings, each of whom offered lots of input but none of whom offered to come and take over so that she could get home. Jennifer was under extreme stress.

The first thing I helped Jennifer to do was to get organized and get her siblings involved. We started by making a list of all of the things that had to be done, the documents that had to be found, the bills that had to be paid, and the decisions that had to be made. We then scheduled a conference call among the siblings which I facilitated. The stated objective of the conference call was to identify Nancy's needs and the resources that could be provided by the family working as a team. These resources included knowledge, time, and money. Once we had an exhaustive list of what needed to be accomplished, we matched the available resources. By the end of that first call, each of the siblings had their assignments and was committed to working as a team. Within a few hours of Jennifer's initial call to me, she was feeling as though she was back in control of the situation and didn't need to carry the burden on her own shoulders.

Over the next several days, I worked with each of the siblings on their piece of the puzzle, making sure that everyone stayed on track. The family had one very important decision to make, and that was where Nancy was going to go upon her discharge from the hospital. We worked with a geriatric care manager to identify the options and concluded that she could return to her condo safely as long as she had appropriate in-home care. Nancy's family now needs to address whether this is a sustainable solution given the financial realities, and the siblings have arranged to all come to visit Nancy at the same time within the next month. During that visit, they plan to go and look at several assisted living facilities and determine if that might be a better solution for Nancy. In preparation for their visit, Jennifer has asked me to help her identify several alternative facilities and to gather all of the necessary information so that she can share that with her siblings in advance of their visit so that they can make the most of their time together.

Family transition coaching can be helpful during a crisis, as in the case study presented above. While it is always better to plan ahead, the reality is that most people avoid thinking about the inevitable issues that will arise as their parents age. If you find yourself in the midst of a caregiving crisis, don't hesitate to reach out to a family transition coach.
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