As parents age and grown-up children take on more responsibilities in managing their care, unforeseen challenges often arise. The roles of parent and child reverse as adult offspring increasingly manage the often complex affairs of their parents.
This change can create tension when family members share more time together, such as at get-togethers and holiday celebrations. Here are four tips on how to best handle these situations, mitigate stress and bring everyone closer.
◆ Keep lines of communication open: Parents may feel uncomfortable talking about the gradual loss of independence that comes with age and advancing medical conditions. Often, the subject is not addressed directly, or avoided altogether, with the parent dismissing offers of help with a curt “I’ll ask for help when I need it” reply. In this case, it’s important to get a close reading on specific areas where help is needed. A refusal of help is also not final and the topic should be revisited regularly as the situation changes.
◆ Be emphatic: Always try to see things from both sides. For parents, loss of mobility and memory issues are not easy to accept after a lifetime of independence. Adult children may attempt, with best interests in mind, to take control of aspects of the parents’ life that they don’t want to relinquish yet. Sometimes it is better to take incremental steps to assist in key areas (driving, shopping, housekeeping chores) and always keep parents apprised on what the plan is going forward. While sometimes a medical emergency may force a decision, it is always good to review options and discuss a plan of action before it occurs.
◆ Don’t be afraid to play the humor card: Forgetfulness and other symptoms of advancing age will give rise to many situations where the humor card can be played without disrespect for parents’ feelings — the lighter side of these moments should be recognized and used to ease the mood. Contrary to expectations, parents are often quite prepared to laugh along and see the funny side of their limitations!
◆ Bring in a third party to be an objective observer: Sometimes a person who is respected and observed as being honest and true, such as a doctor or nurse, can give their insight and provide direction when decisions need to be made. Suggestions of help from a third party could support the decisions needed to keep parents safe and maintain their quality of life, with just a little bit of help here and there. This will make it easier to increase this kind of help as the parents’ capabilities decrease.
Perhaps the most important advice for taking care of aging parents is to encourage their full participation in the discussion and decision-making process. By giving everyone a chance to voice
their opinion, the implementation of care can be fine-tuned so as to respect everyone’s wishes and best interests.
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AGING IN HAWAII EDUCATIONAL OUTREACH PROGRAM
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