QUESTION: My father is 80 and in good health. My mother died five years ago and he has managed well, given she was his loving partner for 52 years. He decided about 6 months ago that he would feel more comfortable moving to an assisted living facility where he would no longer be responsible for caring for his house, yard and other chores. After researching and visiting a number of facilities, we decided on one close to the neighborhood where I live with my family. I am able to visit him on a regular basis and all is going well except for one issue. My father enjoys technology—using the Internet and emailing. He is a neophyte and needs quite a bit of assistance. I can help him when I am with him, but from what he says, no one at the assisted living facility offers help when he asks. This lack of help causes computer frustration in my father and it concerns me that he feels he is being ignored. I have noticed how busy the staff seems to be when I am there, so I don’t attribute their lack of help to laziness. I probably should have researched this when we were interviewing different assisted living facilities, but I didn’t realize it would become such a problem. Now the thought of moving him again overwhelms me. Am I unreasonable to believe that assisting my father with his computer frustration should be part of someone’s job? What should I do ?—Katherine
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ANSWER: I am sorry to hear that such a positive move has become a challenge for you and your father. Moving elderly parents, aunts, uncles and friends can be overwhelming, so I don’t believe moving your father again is the best answer. I would recommend making an appointment with the director of the assisted living facility. Explain what is happening and how it is causing computer frustration. Ask if there is computer help already in place. If so, find out who can help and when. Perhaps they even offer a computer class or a time/place where residents can have their questions answered. Today, most assisted living facility management understand technology helps keep residents in touch with their loved ones—and this leads to healthier humans. If there is no assistance offered onsite, is there a chance you could pay a stipend to a high school or college student in your neighborhood to spend an hour or two a week working with your father? Intergenerational exchanges are usually healthy for everyone involved. Do you have children? If so, bring your father home for dinner on Sunday nights and allow his grandchild to provide instruction. Children are very knowledgeable about computers and can be wonderfully patient. If no one is available at home, would it be possible to enroll your father in a computer class offsite once a week? There are most likely classes offered at a local senior center or your community college. If none of these suggestions leads to an answer, think of ways you can be of assistance, especially when you are not onsite. You could purchase an inexpensive label maker and type out the instructions of the tasks that confuse your father. Then attach them to his computer for immediate reference. Or buy a large notebook and print the instructions out with colorful pens or markers. If his needs are more involved, visit a bookstore in your area or online and check out what books are available for your father to read and learn more about the workings of his software and computer. There are a wide range of books geared toward seniors covering everything from how to use the Internet, to sending and receiving emails, uploading photos and much, much more. Books such as the recently published Windows 8 for Seniors for Dummies by Mark Justin Hinton uses a senior-friendly, larger font and includes enlarged screen shots for better understanding and comprehension. These books also address safety and security issues. While I’m sure your father is no Dummy, he will welcome the help and enjoy some interesting reading material.
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Patricia Smith is a certified Compassion Fatigue Specialist with 20 years of training experience. As founder of the Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project© (www.compassionfatigue.org), the outreach division of Healthy Caregiving, LLC, she writes, speaks and facilities workshops nationwide in service of those who care for others. She has authored several books including To Weep for a Stranger: Compassion Fatigue in Caregiving, which is available at www.healthycaregiving.comor Amazon.com.