Parents take care of their children and then children may need to care of their parents. It's just the way of life.
But the now-adult children who may be unprepared for the task. Most likely they have children of their own, all-consuming careers and may live miles away from their parents.
How to cope? How to help? How to make things better for mom or dad?
This is where the Eldercare Consulting Service at El Camino Hospital in Mountain View comes into play. Under the umbrella of the hospital's Health Library and Resource Center, two elder-care consultants, Robbie Smith and Cynthia Flynn, meet with community residents who need help formulating care-giving plans for older family members.
"With children, you can make rules and enforce them. You can pick children up and set them down and tell them what to do," Smith said. "But how can you make rules and enforce them with adults who have their own time frame for doing things and their own personalities?"
Assessing the family situation is the key task for the consultants, who then research the resources needed to help family members develop a care plan. It doesn't always need to be a long-range plan.
Smith cited the story of a client whose legally blind octogenarian mother was "here for the winter." Both the client and her spouse worked and the mother was alone all day. The client said her mother loved history and perhaps might be interested in current events for mental stimulation.
Smith suggested books on tape and checked out a local center for the blind that offered sewing and music classes. Because the woman liked history, the consultant suggested that she record the family history because she had some rich life experiences to share.
"This would be a gift to the family and good for her," Smith said.
Life enhancement is the goal for all concerned, she added.
The top five concerns of clients seeking help are: housing, in-home care, family communication and legal and financial issues.
"Sitting down together to develop a care plan is a good vehicle for communication," Smith said. "The caregivers may have developed a plan in their heads, but mom and dad might not see it that way. An assessment is a good way to verbalize."
Consultants evaluate the family's financial and emotional circumstances, identify needs and concerns, locate local and nationwide caregiver resources, set priorities and find practical solutions.
Clients receive customized packets of information that address their needs. The hospital's health library has more than 50 handouts available on topics such as adult day care, wandering issues, assisted day care, driving and depression.
"The important thing is to feel the urgency of making a plan," Smith said. "Planning now will help you and your family avoid having to make decisions in a crisis."
The Health Library and Resource Center is located at El Camino Hospital, 2500 Grant Road, Mountain View.
For more information, call or visit the center for a brief initial assessment at no charge. There is a fee for further consultation (financial assistance is available). Hours are 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Call 940-7210 or e-mail