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Helping a loved one who becomes incapacitated

As a family member of a senior living with a mental health problem, it can be disconcerting when your loved one’s health deteriorates and they no longer seem able to care for themselves. It is even more disconcerting when the loved one does not realize the situation or refuses care that family members deem necessary.

When the natural aging processes and existing mental health issues are compounded by the presence of physical health issues, the situation becomes much more complex. Family members who notice changes in their loved one may wonder if what they are seeing is normal.

According to the Curateur Public du Québec, “A person is deemed incapacitated when they are unable to take care of themselves or manage their assets. A person may become incapacitated due to a mental illness, degenerative disease, stroke, intellectual handicap, head injury or age-related impairment which alters the person’s mental faculties or their physical ability to express their will.”

It is important to distinguish between a person making choices that are unacceptable to those around them and true incapacity. Furthermore, experiencing certain challenges does not indicate incapacity. For example, if the person has difficulty managing money and regularly runs short of it, perhaps more support from someone close to them to manage the budget and go shopping may be sufficient. However, someone must volunteer to provide this support.

When the help of family and friends is no longer sufficient, or when the person needs more sustained care or accommodation, taking the next steps is appropriate. Ideally, the person concerned should agree to see their doctor and take part in the decisions involving them. If this is not possible, a family meeting can be held to discuss the steps that need to be taken and the role that everyone is willing to play. One of the first things to do is to contact the Integrated Health and Social Services Centre (CISSS) or the Integrated Health and Social Services University Network (CIUSSS) in the area where the person with the illness lives, or request a meeting with the person’s attending physician and an official from the institution where the person lives.

These steps are often difficult and emotionally charged for the person providing support to their loved one. Not everything can be resolved overnight. It is important to be patient, to remember to always act in the best interest of the person concerned and, most importantly, to take care of yourself. There is no need to do everything or become an expert. Whether your concern is legal, medical or otherwise, help is available. CAP santé mentale member affiliates (https://www.capsantementale.ca/reseau-organismes-aide/) are also available to guide the caregiver in their efforts and help them better cope with the situation.

By Marianne Cornu of Proche en Tout Temps and former Executive Director of Le Gyroscope du Bassin de Maskinongé, http://www.procheentouttemps.org/index.html

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