Who Gets to Decide How Much Your Aging Parent Can Do?
Do you often hear phrases such as “Don’t tell me what I can and can’t do!” or “You’re treating me like a child!”?
If you’re an adult child helping a parent in declining health you’ve likely heard these words at one time or another.
As children, it’s human nature to want to protect a parent who seems to be get weaker and frailer with every passing day. Just as our parents did when we were kids, we try to act as a kind of safety compass for those who are frail or vulnerable. For example,
“I think we should hire someone to mow the lawn.”
“Mom, you have congestive heart failure–you shouldn’t be shovelling snow!”
“Are you taking all your medications like the doctor ordered?”
“Maybe we should get you a seat for the shower.”
“Why are you going on the late bus to the casino? I can’t handle it and I’m not even 40!”
Let’s face it, nobody likes being told what to do–even if the best of intentions are behind it. Imagine yourself in a situation where your physical abilities are slowly declining, it can be very scary. Aging and illness, as most of us would like to believe, happens to other people.
So when it happens to us, we fight like hell to ignore it.
Ultimately though, as caregivers we have to be sensitive to the fact that every decision we make on our parent’s behalf–no matter how well-intended–slowly erodes their sense of independence.
My advice? Play the devil’s advocate and do it really well. My mom only agreed to get an in-home assessment after this conversation:
Me: Mom, you’re holding onto the walls to walk–I think you need a walker.
Mom: I don’t want a walker–I can still get around.
Me: Yeah but mom, what if you fall again and this time you break your hip? What do you think will happen?
Mom: I won’t be able to walk at all.
Me: So don’t you think using a walker might be better than not walking at all?
Mom: I see your point. Alright, call and make the appointment for the assessment.
She did eventually get a walker and LOVED IT! Yes it took a little cajoling and a little time, but once she was able to see what it could bring to her life (i.e. a sense of independence, safety and security) she completely embraced it.