Of all the fine lines we have to walk in our lifetime, one of the most challenging, yet most important, is how we deal with the challenges that inevitably crop up when working with our aging parents.
Everyone's circumstances and family dynamics are different, of course, but there are certain commonalities. Chief among them is how to provide help, support and comfort while respecting our parents' intellect and abilities. Even as the roles shift, they're still our parents, and no matter how wise or experienced we are, to them, we'll always be "the kids."
We specialize in working with families and adult children who are managing the transition of thier elderly parents. We have learned a thing or two over the years and wanted to share these insights with you. We have put together list of the top 5 tips you may want to consider when working with your agents parents. These helpful tips are part of a continuing series of articles by Nick and Joe Santoro of Personal Property Managers. Personal Property Managers specializes in real estate sales, real estate transition services, property management and content clean-out services in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
As our parents age and need more and more help, it's natural to want to lend a hand, but when you get involved, you need to make sure that you don't become domineering.
Seniors who feel like their children are trying to take over their lives get resentful and angry - and as a result often disregard their help just to spite them or assert their independence.
This is why it's important that as our parents age and do start to lose some of their abilities, we stay aware of how we're communicating with them. Nothing presses our buttons more than family.
While this kind of behavior feels most inappropriate with our parents, being respectful and mindful of boundaries are actually the cornerstones of all healthy relationships.
Stepping Up vs. Overstepping Boundaries
So where exactly is the line between being “helpful” and turning into a bully? Sometimes when you do what you feel is needed - arrange a doctor appointment, suggest grab bars - your parents will resent your good advice. People have a fierce desire to remain independent, often even though they really do need assistance.
Add to that the difficulty of accepting the shifting reality of who is now caring for whom. This can be more difficult for our parents to accept because they often view it as “losing power” to their children.
A big part of striking the right balance has to do with how we speak and act. It's imperative that we show respect, not attempt to force our will, and to make everything a negotiation (or at least offer options).
5 Things Adult Children and Parents Fight About
It boils down to this, if you think your parents can do something by themselves, let them. But if they - or someone else - could be harmed, don't feel guilty about getting involved. Most seniors who are slipping a bit are lucid enough to recognize their new limitations. they're looking for someone they trust to make things easier for them.
Here are five of the big issues that are likely to come up, plus suggestions for avoiding conflict.
Nothing gives people a greater sense of independence than driving. A car gets them where they want to go when they want to go. Yet in the hands of someone with physical or cognitive limitations, an automobile can become a lethal weapon.
One must be extremely sensitive when you come to the point where you insist that your parent hand over the keys. Consider trying initially to negotiate ways they can drive their car less frequently - perhaps only locally and in the daylight. Elderly people who have become nervous drivers and don't feel they have to put up a fight often discover they actually prefer not being in the driver's seat.
This is a very sensitive subject and is often met with great resistance. Unfortunatley there are many stories of financial abuse of our elderly loved ones.
The best way to approach this is to suggest that our elderly loved ones open their checkbooks and show us their credit card statements and all their bills. But if they're unwilling and you try to force the issue, they might accuse you of meddling. When there's no evidence of a problem, it's better to just offer help - like balancing a checkbook. Keep your antennae up for hints of trouble.
If you suspect they are mismanaging their resources and they resist your involvement, tell them you need to call in a social worker. It might be easier for your parents to listen to a neutral third party, and a trained professional might have communication or coping strategies that you don't.
3. Home Safety
People can be slow to accept their physical limitations. If they've always gotten in and out of the shower OK, why worry now? The answer is that we all have a problem projecting in the future, yet for people over 65, falls are the leading cause of injury and death. When a parent is having problems with gait or limb strength or has recently started using a walker or cane, it's time to start the conversation.
So how should you handle this? Often scare tactics go a long way.
The image of lying alone, in grave pain, injured (or possibly dying)
alone in the living room might be enough to "put the fear of God"
into a parent who perfers not to discuss such issues. Often times
elderly loved ones wouldn't wear their life-alert pendant until they
hear about someone who fell and waited several hours for the ambulance
Most people will accept minor fixes, like rug tape or bathtub no-slip strips, so if you start with the little things (and build up to the larger ones), you won't come off as oppressive.
4. Doctors, Treatments and Medication
Seniors are not always forthcoming about their medical reports. Sometimes they haven't completely understood what a doctor has said, or they could be deliberately withholding information they think will make them seem enfeebled or cause you to worry.
If your parent seems healthy you may want to consider backing off (but keep a watchful eye). If, however, you observe any symptoms or notice your parent is missing doctor appointments, getting confused with his medications and won't let you help, call in a social worker or nurse. Tell your parent you are doing so. In a life-or-death matter, there's no such thing as a bossy pants.
5. End-of-Life Planning
No one likes to think about this heaviest of all topics - and yet if people want their wishes heeded, important documents need to be in place: a power of attorney, a last will and testament, a living will, organ donation papers, funeral preferences and more.
How to handle You cannot force your parents to do any of these things or tell you where they keep the safety deposit box key.