the art of caring for your aging loved one


Talking to Your Aging Loved One

We learned in the cradle to respect our elders. "Don't talk back."

Or this one: "Don't speak to me as if I'm a child." (ouch)

You may want to or need to assume the role of the one in charge, particularly in the high-risk areas of concern such as medication management, finances, and driving.

Remember ... someone yelled HELP!

It is difficult to switch roles. Practise at home. Say, "Dad, there comes a time when you must give up your drivers' license. The time is now."

Dad may comply or Dad may give you The Look that says, "I know what I'm doing, young man."

How to Help the Older Person Who Denies Needing Help

"I have talked repeatedly to Dad about the condition of the house. It's a mess! With his bad back and arthritis, he can't keep it clean. We could hire someone to help, but he won't hear of it. He tells me the house is just fine!" Does this sound familiar?

When your older relative refuses to admit that he is having difficulties, or rejects offers of help, it's important to understand the reasons why.

  • It's hard to accept the changes that accompany aging, such as vision loss, difficulty walking, or slower reflexes.
  • Many older people are determined to remain independent. The suggestion that they need help may bring concerns about dependence on others.
  • Like all of us, older people are concerned about "appearances". They may resist wearing a hearing aid or using a cane for that reason. Older people may not want to have their neighbors see someone coming into their home to help with household tasks.
  • They may fear depleting their savings. A person who has been frugal all his life may resist hiring someone to clean, cook, or provide personal care.
  • They do not see the issue as a problem. A messy house, for example, may be a great concern to you but not to your elderly father. He will tell you, in no uncertain terms, that "I know where everything is!"

Timing the Discussion

By understanding these reasons, you may find a way to discuss the "resistant" person's need for assistance. Remember ... timing is everything.

Plan your discussion for a time when you are both calm and relaxed.

Be honest about your concerns. Try not to be critical or judgmental. It helps to use "I" statements. "I'm worried that you are eating so little. I'm afraid you might be getting sick."

Pick Your Issues

Before you consider introducing a topic of discussion, write it down.

Time permitting, sleep on it for a few days.

See where it fits in the grand scheme.

Safety is the main priority.

After that, for now does it really matter if Mum prefers to sponge bath herself rather than having someone bathe her? A face cloth can do wonders.

You must avoid confrontational encounters—no shouting matches!

Are you fearing butterflies in your stomach or a migraine when you think of these conversations? By all means call in the troops. Ask another family member, the spiritual leader, or a good friend who has recently been through the same thing. Farm out a few challenges.

You don't have to do it ALL yourself. "Many hands make light work."

Change Takes Time

First things first. Discuss the most important issues; try to let the little ones go.

Listen respectfully to different points of view.

Suggest small steps. A series of small changes may be more acceptable than a sudden, dramatic change.

Be ready to discuss the same issue a number of times before seeing progress. Change takes time.

Enlist others to talk with your Aging Loved One if you do not succeed. Often an outside person such as a doctor or clergy person can be influential.

A Memorable

So far, this is the oldest I've ever been. (anon.)