Haims: Don’t try to ‘manage’ aging loved ones; try a gentle approach (column)
The holidays are over and a new year is upon us. Let’s start the new year off with a few tips and advice that will hopefully assist with caregiving for our aging family members.
Watching an aging family member slow down as they get older can be emotionally difficult. Thoughts of their mortality and watching the limitations that come with age may cause those that love and care for them to feel compelled to help. This can be a very good, insightful and cathartic process. However, it can also be a very tumultuous time.
“He just won’t listen.” How many times have you said this about your aging dad? As the family caregiver, you’re butting heads with him more often. Dad’s lifestyle choices have taken a toll on his body; however, he refuses to change. You may be at a breaking point, but dad is notoriously stubborn. He often gives the usual response: “I’m old enough to live the way I want.”
Pushback like this can make caring for an aging parent far more difficult than it already is. You can’t remember the last time you saw him eating a fruit or a vegetable without your suggestion or pestering. He’s gained weight. He rarely remembers to take his medication regularly, so you (or someone) always needs to remind him.
You, your family and his medical provider(s) all know that dad needs to change his ways or suffer irreversible damage. At this point, you may feel that you are the only one worrying and dad couldn’t care less. He’s continued with his unhealthy habits as if nothing’s wrong. When you speak up, he gets defensive, dismissive or retorts with morbid comments (We’re all gonna die). The argument goes nowhere because dad won’t budge. You’re both left emotionally exhausted.
Don’t let yourself get caught up in arguments. Instead, understand how habits are formed and can be modified.
Don’t scold your loved one
It’s almost a reflex to tell dad: “You need to change your ways,” but this message will almost always be met with resistance. No one wants to feel inadequate or be scolded. Pointing out what’s wrong and leaning only on rational logic seldom works. Instead, try to facilitate a two-way conversation.
For example, instead of telling dad he needs the to eat some vegetables every day, ask if he’d like a small salad for dinner, chicken soup or minestrone soup — both which can have veggies. You need to think outside of the box.
If you have ever had a conversation like this, you know it’s not going anywhere good:
• You: “Mom/Dad, I think it would be a good idea to get someone in your home to help you. I can’t help noticing that you have difficulty walking around and you appear to be so cautious walking up/down the stairs.”
• Mom/Dad: “That’s not necessary. I’m doing just fine. I hold onto the back of the chairs and couch. Besides, I’m very careful.”
• You: “But you’re going to fall! This isn’t safe. Why are you so stubborn.”
Your logical approach and finger pointing probably got you nowhere. Perhaps this might be a more productive approach:
• You: “Mom/Dad, I’m feeling anxious and worried. I know you’d never want to be a burden to me. However, if you were to fall and get hurt it would be a burden. A friend told me that her mom fell one night and was on the floor until the next night when a neighbor came by. She ended up in the hospital not just from the fall, but from dehydration. I need you to help me be less anxious about your walking and climbing the stairs. Would you consider a way to do that?”
Notice that the statement you start with is about you, the adult child. Describe it as your problem, not theirs. You talk about something most parents don’t ever want, which is to be a burden to their kids. You ask them to help you and ease your worry.
Your approach to assist your parents and loved ones will not be the same for everyone. If you would like suggestions or even resources, please touch base with me. I’ll be happy to direct you to people and resources.
Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Eagle County. Contact him at 970-328-5526 or visit http://www.visitingangels.com/comtns.