Vail Daily column: Losing independence can be frustrating
Whether you find yourself being within the “sandwich” generation or are an adult child of a senior, the frustration of talking with a senior family member about some issue related to that person needing to relinquish some form of their independence can be daunting. The conversations and the level of concern vary widely. How does the conversation work when expressing to a parent your concern of their handling (or not handling) their finances and checkbook? What about a concern of their cognitive functions and their ability/inability to live safely by themselves?
Let’s look at it this way — we all are aware of the developmental issues that face 2-year-olds (the terrible 2s), and some of us can painfully identify with their teenager’s struggle for independence. Yet, we rarely hear about the “crisis” that confronts all elders and the struggles they face in their development. And yes, we all continue to develop as we age — being 80 doesn’t stop our development. Personality development books, written by such scholars as Erikson and Piaget, clearly define the “crisis” that each individual must resolve before moving on to the next stage of development (i.e., teenagers need for independence versus their need for their parents protection and nurturing). We understand these stages of development because those that have defined them have lived through those stages and learned firsthand what is happening.
So, what are those crises and how do we understand what our elders are experiencing? How do we develop the best communication style that will allow us to handle both our need to protect our elders and to allow them to resolve their own “crises”?
It is important that we all understand that aging is a lifelong development. It doesn’t stop when we retire, or when we reach a certain age; it lasts until we die (and then some might argue that such development continues vicariously through the children of the elder). In his book “How to Say It to Seniors,” author David Soile, in the chapter titled “Closing the Communication Gap with Our Elders,” describes the crisis faced by the elders of today as the conflict to “maintain control over their lives in the face of almost daily losses, and simultaneously to discover their legacy, or that which will live on after them.” This “conflict” clearly makes for a difficult communication gap for those having to protect our loved ones.
The issue of communication is clearly apparent: The elder can ramble from topic-to-topic, repeating stories over and over again, etc., where their son or daughter has the need to focus and get results from every word — no wasting time on needless communication. Yet, as Soile points out, “We haven’t learned to appreciate the tasks on their agenda.” Meaning of course, that their “crisis” dictates that the elder needs to continually work on resolving “maintaining control versus letting go” as a result of the loss of some of their abilities and the legacy they will have left.
When addressing concerns of finances and personal safety, it is important to broach the subjects with sensitivity and compassion. Regardless of age, it can be quite humbling and even embarrassing to have someone speak to a senior about needing assistance in getting control of their money, considering their ability to drive a car, or living alone safely. Be very aware that no matter how you candy-coat it, you are indicating that they may be losing a large measure of independence.
By far, it will be more comfortable for everyone if such issues are discussed before your elderly parent or relative needs help. Establish definitive signal events that might indicate they need help (for example, receiving account alerts, late payments, traffic violations) and come up with a plan as to how you will work together if and when that time comes. Talk about possible complications and consequences that could arise and for them and their family should a proper plan not be developed.
Involving your senior loved one in the decision-making process may make the task of addressing these issues much easier. Keep the focus on what they can do and make suggestions only for those tasks that you feel they need help with. Most important, listen to what they have to say about the issue. Understand, through your use of words, how the elder feels and thinks about their situation in life now, versus when they were your age.
Such conversations can be difficult and emotional for all parties involved. Before you dive in, consider getting guidance from an expert on elder issues.
Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Eagle County. For more information, go to http://www.visitingangels.com/comtns or call 970-328-5526.