Funny how mom/dad can lull you into a false sense of security on how they are doing.  This is especially apparent when you don’t live close enough to see their day to day activities on a regular basis.  We want to believe everything is fine because:

  • We don’t want to think about decline in our loved one’s activities of daily living (ADL’s)
    • Not taking their medications as prescribed
    • Not bathing regularly
    • Less aware of their surroundings when driving
    • Falls
    • Not eating well
  • Anything less than fine means we must get involved with care in one form or another and we don’t have a clue on where to start

Neither is a palatable thought.  The discovery of decline in our loved one’s ability to live alone, take good care of themselves, keep the house in good order, make prudent decision, etc. happens frequently for a lot of us during the holidays when we spend more time with our loved ones, when we come to visit or when we get the dreaded call from a neighbor or worse. 

Communication and observation are key to vital happiness and well-being for your loved one.  Talking about a transition from independence to allowing another to help is usually difficult at best.  Expect resistance; older adults refuse help for the same reasons they deny they need it.  Denial about their situation, pride, shame, fears of being “put away”, losing privacy and/or self-esteem, giving up independence, etc. 

Basic guidelines can help make this transition positive and effective:

  • Have an initial family meeting prior to expressing your feelings to the loved one in need.  This will give the family the opportunity to be on the same page and contribute to your loved one’s care.  Be prepared to give options to your loved one needing help. 
    • Are they prepared to remain in their own home – do they have resources for this?  Most older adults thrive in the comfort and familiarity of their own home when it’s possible to do so.
    • Would an Independent Living Community be a better fit?
    • Have they declined to the point an Assisted Living Community may be the best place for them?
    • Do your homework – elicit help from a professional for the pros and cons of each living option.  A Geriatric Care Manager, a Certified Senior Advisor, an Elder Law Attorney are good options.

Now what?  Time for a conversation with your loved one.  Chances are they are aware of their failing inability to keep up like they used to or know there is a decline in their health.  But be prepared, most likely they will continue to “hoodwink” you. 

  • Approach them gently but frankly.  They may be offended.  Then again, they may be relieved.  Use humor and a positive approach when expressing concerns; keep in mind you may have to be firm but compassionate.  Often I see adult children bend to their loved one; allowing themselves to revert back to a child/children parent situation instead of stepping up and being the voice of reason/handling the situation prudently.  I know this is a difficult time in the relationship but a necessary one. 
  • Help them to accept help by having someone they respect be the one to suggest help (clergy, physician, good friend, etc.)
  • Explain how accepting help will help keep them as independent as possible. 
  • Elicit their wisdom.  (Example: mention a friend whose eyesight/hearing has made it dangerous for her to keep driving.  Ask your loved one what she thinks would be the best way to handle the situation.) 

If all else fails, give your older adult every opportunity to continue to make their own decisions.  It may take a crisis, but at some point it will become clear to all involved that a change in their living arrangement is necessary; hopefully the crisis does not result in permanent physical damage. 

Reminisce occasionally to help your older adult focus on happier times to ease the pain from their current difficulties.  Caring for your aging loved one and negotiating that inevitable reversal of roles requires planning, understanding, patience, thick skin and a sense of humor.  This is most likely what we want for our own care as we age.

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