Aging parents

Approaching aging parents with your concerns about their health or safety can be a challenge.     

Does Mom want to keep driving even though her vision has become limited? Has Dad fallen before, but refuses to take preventive measures, insisting it won’t happen again? Has Mom’s memory started to fade but she tries to fake her way through it?

Your fiercely independent parents have always tackled their problems with ease. But when there is a problem they do not see or choose to ignore, it is up to you to bring up the subject.

Understand the behavior

You are worried that your parents will hurt themselves and have pointed this out before. But they refuse to get help. Dad is used to being the boss around the house, and even though his mind and body aren’t working as well as they used to, he refuses to change his behavior.

If your current approach isn’t working, put yourself in Dad’s shoes. He may be refusing your help because:

• He doesn’t recognize that he needs help.

• He is trying to maintain his independence, regardless of the cost.

• He doesn’t want to feel helpless.

• He believes that getting help means giving up.

• He is afraid of change.

• He doesn’t want to become a burden.

Dad may be trying to hide his struggles from you, or he may not realize how hard everyday tasks have become. Take the time to understand where he is coming from so you can choose a new approach.

Try a trial run

It may be easier for Dad to talk to and accept advice from a professional rather than a family member.

Encourage Dad to give some elder-care services a try. Hire a geriatric-care manager to come in to evaluate him or have a housekeeper come by and clean. Present the idea as something he is doing to appease the family, not as something he needs.

Beware, Dad may resist this tactic at first. But with time, he may come to love the services. A trial run gives you the chance to show him how much easier life can be with some additional help.

Enlist help from his doctor

While you can’t ask for Dad’s medical information, you can certainly speak to his doctor. Write a letter to his doctor with your concerns about his health and have your family sign it. Send a copy to every doctor that Dad sees so they are all aware of the issue.

If driving is one of those concerns, the doctor can evaluate his vision and reaction times. In some states, doctors are legally required to advise the MVD if their patients are at risk while driving.

Host a family meeting

Sometimes, you just need to get the whole family together.

Meet with your siblings and relatives and decide on your strategy before you sit Dad down. When you do confront him, remember to:

• Keep emotions calm. Getting into an argument won’t solve the problem. A fiercely independent parent will only resist more.

• Make it a discussion. Avoid “you can’t do that” statements. Talk about what he can do. Get him to brainstorm on what solutions would make his life better.

• Stick to the facts. Remind him that falling once doubles the chance that he will fall again. Talk about his eyes and knees and how they are giving him trouble. Frame age as something that is happening to him, not something that he is.

• Remind him that you are worried about his safety. Tell Dad that worrying about him is driving you crazy and you need some relief. If he isn’t worried about himself, he may be willing to take action to ease your fears.

• Treat him like an adult. He has the right to make his own decisions, even if you don’t agree with them.

Open-door policy

You want to be there for your parents. Being supportive means supporting their choices, even if it means they won’t accept your help.

Remind them that your door is open if they ever change their minds. Keep in touch, and visit often.

Take some time to get to know your parent even better. Observe how Dad is doing, and try to see his actions from a new perspective. Figuring out his strengths and weaknesses helps you see what he really needs assistance with and how to offer it.

You may hear again and again, “I don’t want to be a burden.” Tell Dad that the only burden you are feeling is the worry you have for him.

Remind him he is still a role model for you and his grandchildren. He has the opportunity to model the strength of accepting help during a difficult time. In the face of physical and cognitive decline, that is something to be proud of.

Tracy Layden is a Certified Aging in Place Specialist. Born and raised in Silicon Valley, Layden leads the marketing efforts at Alert-1, a personal safety technology and consulting firm dedicated to helping seniors live safely and independently.

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