Sunday, October 12, 2008

Our Aging Parents

The information contained in this article is from "Accepting Your Parents' Limitations" by Roni Lang, LCSW, Greenwich Hospital. Having been the main caregiver for my father as he got older, sicker and died, I thought the information in her article was well written and brings out a lot of points that you need to be prepared for.

Watching our parents become less able to care for themselves is one of life's greatest challenges. Adult children often feel awkward and ill-equipped to assume the caretaker role. Although this shift in roles may be uncomfortable and frightening, it also can provide opportunities for connection and growth.

Accept your conflicting emotions and those of your parents. Aging brings up a complicated tangle of feelings in both parents and children. Along with love and appreciation, we also are likely to feel, at various times, resentment, sadness, fear, frustration, guilt, anger and impatience. Underlying all these emotions is the issue of loss. The parent fears losing independence and, with it, self-confidence, power and control. Adult children not only suffer by witnessing their parents' pain but also must cope with their own losses. They lose the image of a parent who always can be counted on to take care of things. Instead, the "buck stops" with the adult child.

If you bring up aging and health issues before a crisis hits, it makes communication and planning easier. Introduce the topic in a friendly, low-key way. Ask questions of your parent(s).
1. Who would you want to speak for you if you couldn't speak for yourself?
2. If it became hard to take care of the house, what other options would you consider?
3. How would you feel about live-in help?
4. What about retirement communities or assisted-living facilities...
5. Could we put together a list of your doctors' names and phone numbers, and the medications you're taking?

Caution: Don't raise more than one issue at a time. Trying to tackle too much at once can lead to stress and defensiveness. If your parent doesn't want to discuss the issue, back off and talk about something else. Raise the topic again on another occasion. (NOTE: I can tell you from experience and a friends' current experience, once you start trying to introduce the subject of "care facilities"... they get immediately defensive, stubborn, and untrusting of you... refusing to even entertain the thought.)

Determine if you need to get actively involved. If a parent is already declining, you need to be more assertive. Signs that you should get actively involved include...
1. Trouble with everyday tasks, such as cleaning, cooking, paying bills.
2. Neglecting personal care (wearing the same clothes every day, bathing less often).
3. Health changes, such as weight loss, lack of energy, difficulty walking.
4. Frequent confusion, memory lapses, trouble with problem-solving, getting lost in familiar areas.
5. Safety concerns, such as the stove being left on or medications in disarray.

Involve your parent in decisions. Most parents dig in their heels when their children tell them what to do. Statements such as "I think you should see a doctor" or "I don't think you should drive anymore" threaten their independence.
Unless your parent is in immediate danger, give him/her as much latitude as possible. Present options. Encourage mutual brainstorming and problem-solving.

Try to express your concerns, rather than giving orders.

Stay calm and connected. Strive to show empathy, affection and respect. Relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, can help you maintain your composure. When you catch yourself raising your voice or getting impatient, stop trying to force your point. Instead, acknowledge what the other person is saying.

Often, a parent may be more receptive to the idea of accepting assistance when it comes from someone other than a son or daughter. If your parent resists your help, consider asking your parent's close friend, sibling (your aunt or uncle), clergyperson or doctor to initiate the conversation.

Listen compassionately. When our parents say things that sound negative, the temptation is to try to talk them out of those feelings. We may think we're helping them, but we're actually protecting ourselves from feeling guilty or sad -- and probably making our parents feel worse.

Get support. A large network of public and private agencies and programs exists to help seniors and their families with caregiving assistance and emotional support.

To locate publicly funded and community programs, start with Eldercare Locator, a free national service of the Administration on Aging. The service links those who need assistance with state and local area agencies on aging and community-based organizations that serve older adults and their caregivers.

If your parent has been hospitalized, the hospital social worker can help guide you toward resources.

You may want to consider hiring a professional geriatric care manager (GCM) -- a nurse, social worker, gerontologist or other specialist who can help you navigate options and create an action plan. Contact the National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers

1 comment:

Unknown said...

what is it about our aging parents and the blues? You've felt them, haven't you? All adult children of aging parents do at some point or another. These HOT blues are a feeling of dis-comfort, dis-quiet, dis-ease, dis-organization, and every other "dis" you can imagine. There can be no doubt when they have you in their grip.When it comes to our relationships with our aging parents, that "getting in the way" stuff is a combination of the history we share and the unknowns that lie ahead.
james wilkins

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