Helicopter Children

Many of us are familiar with the term “helicopter parenting,” which describes a parent who hovers over their children, constantly assessing their safety and comfort and immediately intervening when any problem, however slight, occurs. The same term can be applied to children who oversee an elderly parent’s care, and who constantly look for assurance that a parent is safe and comfortable. In the case of an elderly parent living in an assisted living environment or nursing home, ascertaining their wellbeing can be complicated by a number of factors outside of the adult child’s control, including lack of proximity, lack of reliable information, lack of responsiveness by the care team, and lack of sufficient knowledge to set reasonable expectations, making helicoptering a parent extremely difficult, emotionally exhausting and often detrimental to the relationship between parent, child and caregivers.

When a parent’s health and general wellbeing fail, adult children often find themselves at loose ends, trying their best to navigate and interpret their parent’s medical information, often from a distance and often with incomplete information or with faulty reporting. If the parent resides in an assisted living community, the family should be able to depend on reporting from the caregivers to assess their parent’s wellbeing, and to notify the family in the event that meaningful changes or problems arise.  In a perfect world, all assisted living facilities would closely monitor each resident, and would immediately contact family with any issues. The problem is, not all assisted living facilities are equally responsive or well run, and when adult children don’t get the information they need quickly enough, pressing for information or “hovering” may be the natural result. If hovering results in interference with a parent’s care, the care team may become frustrated, and communication between family and the care team may become strained.

In order to prevent helicopter children from interfering with patient care, the assisted living facility must prove itself to be a competent and vocal advocate for its residents. Unfortunately, with resident to caregiver ratios as high as 20:1 and resulting high turnover of staff, many assisted living facilities can’t be counted on the give the kind of personalized care that allows them to understand each resident’s needs and wellbeing. It’s important to ask about the resident to caregiver ratio when choosing a facility. Five or six residents per caregiver is a reasonable ratio. Anything more may result in the loss of personalized attention and responsiveness.

At Manchester Place care assisted living homes in Dallas, Texas, our resident to caregiver ratio is never more than 5 to 1, and is often as low as 3 or 4 to 1. As a result, our caregivers are able to offer exceptional, personalized care to each resident. In addition, our Director of Care makes daily rounds each weekday with each of our residents, assuring a tremendous amount of continuity and responsiveness. Our staff is trained to respond immediately to a resident’s needs, and to notify family immediately in the event of an emergency or material change in condition. We encourage visits from family, and encourage open dialog with adult children, assuring that a resident’s needs are fully met and family does not need to work overtime to oversee a parent’s care and ensure their wellbeing: That’s what we’re here for.

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