You visit with your aging parents weekly by phone and though Dad does most of the talking, he assures you everything is fine with Mom and himself. When you visit, your mother almost always suggests eating out. Your father insists that he doesn’t need help with the bills, although his desk is cluttered with unopened mail.
These and other similar occurrences might indicate that your folks need help, but are steeped in denial.
Denial is one of our most common defense mechanisms. It’s an emotional response to the fear of facing and dealing with an unwelcome reality. Older people are scared of losing their health and memory and, as a result, losing their independence. So they deny what should be obvious.
The owner of a San Diego homecare company points out that many of the older folks he talks with insist they don’t need any help. “There’s something about admitting that you can’t do something anymore that’s very difficult.
“So many people who lived through World War II and the Great Depression learned to do everything for themselves; now, it’s a measure of their self-esteem. They don’t understand that they don’t have to do everything themselves, that others can help. ”
As a result, they hide from the truth.
Meanwhile, their adult children, who are not eager to turn their own world upside down, too easily accept the false bravado until a fall lands Mom in the hospital with a broken hip or dementia sends Dad on an excursion across town and he can’t remember the way home.
The truth is that problems can only be ignored for so long before they become a crisis. It doesn’t help to ignore an escalating blood pressure or lump on your breast and it doesn’t help for your or your folks to deny the increasingly problems that often accompany aging. Waiting too long to fix any situation usually makes the outcome worse.
Initially, you need to understand and face the problems yourself. Research local organizations and businesses that offer help for your parents and yourself as the caregiver.
Then, you need to help your parents to see the situation more clearly and, ultimately, to agree to some help.
To get them to accept their circumstances, you need to be compassionate. It’s better to start by expressing your concern than to hit them with a diagnosis. Tell them you’re worried or would feel better if they….(You fill in the blank.) Tell them you need them to do something to help you. It’s true.
Instead of pointing out that they have dementia, try saying you’re concerned they’ve missed several appointments’, that the bottom of their pans are burned and that some of the prescriptions in their medicine cabinet expired two years ago. Instead of pointing out their balance problems, you might say you’re concerned about their increasing falls.
Arguing or bullying won’t help them dig out of denial. They’ll only push back harder and you’ll probably lose the battle. Encourage your parents to share their perspectives; don’t dictate to them. Ask, for instance, if they think memory gaps could be the result of poor eating, a urinary tract infection or a vitamin deficiency and then suggest that they see a doctor to find out.
If they’re not eating properly, you might offer to phone Meals-on-Wheels so they don’t have to cook as often. Or you might suggest that a caregiver could come by a few hours a week to help them with the chores they don’t like to do.
Negotiate. Offer your parents choices, so they don’t feel trapped. Tell them if they don’t like their doctor, for instance, you can help them find another one.
Ask if they’d try home-delivered meals for just a month to see if they like the food or if they’d hire homecare for a month to see how it works out. Hiring someone to help out for even a few hours a week is a great first step. The professional might pitch in with cooking and cleaning, keep in touch with the medical team, fill prescriptions or help motivate your folks to get out of the house.
As your parents get used to having someone around, it might be easier to increase the hours of professional help. Make sure they know that if they don’t like the caregiver, they can try someone else.
The more control you give your parents, the better they’ll feel and the more cooperative they might be.
If you can’t get any cooperation, consider hiring a geriatric care manager to assess and monitor the situation from a more neutral perspective. Meanwhile, don’t give up; have a series of talks with your folks over time to express your concerns and get their continued input.
Unfortunately, your authority is limited as your parents are adults and even though you’re well into adulthood, they will always see you as their child. They have the legal right to make bad decisions unless you seek a legal conservatorship, an expensive process that could ruin your relationship.
Short of that, you can only offer your compassion and help, then stand by until they’re ready to accept the situation and change it.
Sponsored by Right at Home, In-Home Care & Assistance, (619) 200-2110, (760) 690-1147, (858) 277-5900, (951) 506-9628. Contact Marsha Kay Seff at firstname.lastname@example.org.