The last time you were home to see your parents you might have noticed some of these things:
- House not as spic and span as it used to be
- A decaying or declining look to the inside and outside of the house- it’s just not in good repair
- Either way too much food in the kitchen and it’s spoiled, or not enough food in the kitchen.
- Laundry not being done regularly
- Medications aren’t being taken as directed
- Mail is piling up and when you peek through it, you see unpaid bills.
- Your mom or dad is not acting like himself
After your visit, you called your brother and sister; they say they’ve noticed the same things. You think you should “attack” the issue over Thanksgiving and your plan is to “storm the beaches” and tell you parents you’re in charge and they need to make changes or else. If this sounds like a good plan to you, step back and reconsider. Older adults are often very aware of the accumulating little losses in their lives such as changes in their physical ability, which make it harder and harder to tie shoes. Most older adults are savvy enough to know big losses are looming or are already being felt:
- Health declines, whether gradual or sudden
- Independence (they may be hoping you don’t notice all the dents on the car)
- Loss of dear friends and possibly a spouse
The point is: they typically don’t need us to take over. What they need is to maintain as much control as possible in their lives and as such, most will be very resistant to direction from their children. Adult children can navigate this tricky time with presence of mind and attention to a parent’s feelings. Assuming your parents aren’t dealing with dementia, you can work with them as a good neighbor would. Imagine this across-the-fence conversation:
- Hey Joe, how are you?
- Great Ed. How’s your neck of the woods?
- Oh fine. Say Joe, I see you have a few roof tiles missing—I thought it might have escaped your notice since it’s on the side of the house that is easiest for me to see. I just thought you might like to know.
- (Joe) Really? I hadn’t noticed. Where are they missing? Does it look bad?
- (Ed) Well, if I were you, I’d be watching for leaks in your… isn’t that your laundry room under that part of the roof?
- (Joe) Boy, you’re right. That’s over our laundry room. I’ll have to call someone and get that fixed. Thanks for letting me know about it.
- (Ed) Sure thing. Gotta run.
The neighbor Ed didn’t tell Joe what to do or try to take over the situation. He pointed out a problem in a way that saved face for Joe not having noticed it himself.
Talking to your parents is not likely to be easy. They may be expecting, and dreading the “I have a plan for you to follow, Dad…” conversation. Share your feelings with statements that center on you: “I’m concerned when I see your house/appearance isn’t the way you’ve always kept it.” Ask questions neutrally: “Have your priorities changed?Are there areas you want to work on, but aren’t for some reason? What’s keeping you back?” Your goal is to problem solve together, not present a final solution that you worked out before hand. Remember, a good neighbor wouldn’t talk down or lose her temper. Be prepared to negotiate; find out what they will do to move things forward. Here’s an example: “If you need my help to ______________, I’ll need you to agree to have grab bars installed in the bathrooms (or use a medication reminder box after your pharmacist sorts all the medications out).
If emotions are already running high over the changes in your parent’s situation, enlist the aid of one of their good friends or a trusted advisor to broach the subject. Remember the goal: help your parents maintain their independence as long and as fully as possible, because it is most likely what they want.
If dementia is part of the picture, you will have to take over completely, eventually. Locate and understand the legal documents: power of attorney, will, and medical directives. Investigate care options, educate yourself on the disease—essentially prepare for future changes. Understand you will very likely have a lot of resistance to your involvement because your parent probably knows something is wrong. Carolyn Rosenblatt, registered nurse,attorney, and author of “The Boomer’s Guide to Aging Parents,” advises people to understand the situation is a safety issue; just like taking care a teenager who’s judgment has not yet developed, you will need to help take care of your parent, who’s judgment is deteriorating.
At Home Care Assistance, our Care Managers help families throughout the aging process. We understand care needs, financial issues, family dynamics and how to navigate the medical world. We can help you take care of your parents. Call our Lincoln office at 402-261-5158 or our Omaha office at 402-763-9140 to talk with a Care Manager.