When the Caregiver Becomes a Coach

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • Since I wasn’t in town when Mom moved to a different room this time, my father and brother, Steve, took the lead in making sure that all went well. However, I found that I took on a different role as a caregiver – a coach.

    There were several ways that I took on this role. First of all, I found that I was “coaching” my father and Steve on all issues related to the move through long distance phone calls. I encouraged Dad to call the nursing home’s social worker in order to see if we could arrange for Mom to move when Steve would be present. That request was honored, especially when Dad explained that we are hoping that Mom’s focus would be on Steve’s presence instead of her new environment.
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    Then I found I was coaching on room set-up. Over the phone, I pointed Steve to where the hammer was so that he could hang the collage of family photos in Mom’s room. I reminded Dad and Steve to hang the marker board where we post messages and schedules, which helps Mom be less confused. And I suggested to Dad that he find the colorful quilt that I had given Mom and make sure that it was on her bed; this would enable Mom to find her room more easily because she would recognize the quilt.

    I also was put in a coaching position when Mom had an outburst on the day after the move. My cell phone rang in the early portion of the afternoon while I was at work. My father reported that my mother had thrown an explosive tantrum. She blew a fuse at my brother, telling him that she wanted out of the nursing home immediately and using criticism to try to push him to action. She demanded that Steve leave the room immediately when he explained that he couldn’t help her leave. I talked to Steve later that day and counseled him that Mom’s reaction was normal and that he shouldn’t take it personally.

    In that afternoon phone call, Dad explained that Mom’s niece was planning a visit later that afternoon; should he take her (and should Steve go along after the explosion)? I suggested that Dad accompany the niece for the visit, but leave Steve behind. Then Dad asked what he should do if Mom’s anger reignited when the niece was there. I commented that he should watch Mom’s reactions and if she started looking like she was going to explode, then he and the niece should make an early goodbye. Dad asked what he should do if Mom demanded that she wanted out. I described how I handled this scenario in the past. Finally, Dad asked whether Steve could see her again that day since he was leaving early the next morning. I told Dad that Mom would probably have forgotten her outburst by that evening and that it should be safe for Steve to visit again. Sure enough, that advice proved to be sound.

    When serving as a caregiver, you can easily get sucked into the drama of the issues related to caregiving. It becomes a challenge to step back and coach someone else who suddenly is placed in the caregiving role. This situation also gives you a chance to be reflective about what works, what doesn’t, and what else can be tried in handling situations created by loved ones with Alzheimer’s. Through taking a coaching approach, you can benefit from this introspection as much as the substitute caregiver in determining what works best with your loved one.
Published On: October 17, 2006