The Big Role Reversal: Managing an Aging Parent's Health

Posted by Kaerrie Hall

Apr 21, 2017 1:39:07 PM

Caregiving for an aging parent.jpgIt can be challenging helping an aging parent manage their health, even when they are open to receiving your assistance. But what about the additional challenges you face when they resist your help?

Whether that resistance is due to pride, denial, or the desire to not be a burden, here are a few things to remember and some tips that may encourage mom or dad to accept the help they need.

They Are the Same Person They've Always Been

Sure, they’re older now and have health issues that they didn't have 5 or 10 years ago. But what didn't work before, when they were in the peak of health, isn’t going to work now. If they’ve always been resistant to accepting help or discussing health matters “in front of the kids,” you can expect the same. So consider a different approach.

“My father was so exceedingly stubborn when it came to sharing information about health, personal matters, finances, etc.,” Gloria shares. “When my mother became ill, my father fought us about offering help, even down to not allowing us to clean their home for them or get mom to doctor’s appointments. He kept saying what was going on was their business and we needed to stay out of it. But we could tell our mom wanted him to accept the support. Finally, we came up with some strategies that worked.”

Gloria and her brother found making logical arguments and trade-offs opened the door with their father. Approaches that worked included:

  • “You know how mom loves a clean house. So you can spend more time with her, let us take care of some of these rooms for you. It will make her happy.”
  • “It would mean a lot to us to be part of mom’s care, even if it was something as simple as making you guys a home-cooked meal a couple nights a week.”
  • “Why don’t you let us take mom for her breathing treatment tomorrow while you get in some time for fishing? And if you catch some fish, we’ll grill what you catch and all eat healthy together tonight.”
  • “We want to participate in making mom comfortable and happy. Can you think of something you wouldn’t mind us doing in that regard?”
  • “You paid all that money for our college education. Let us return the favor at least a little bit by keeping the house clean or getting someone in here to do it at your direction?”

They May Be Worried About You

If a parent is worried about getting in the way of what you want to do or adding to your plate, an effective approach may be to matter-of-factly tell them that allowing you to provide caregiver support actually makes your life less stressful.

When Lyle could see his mother was not eating as healthy as she used to or going to church and social events as much as she had before, he asked her what was wrong. She explained her arthritis was getting worse and making it difficult to get around the grocery store or drive to places she wanted to go. She insisted she was fine with the way things were and told him he was too busy with work and his own life to concern himself with her situation.

Lyle explained to his mom that taking care of her made him feel good. He told her she was worrying him sick by not eating or doing the things she liked to do and that he would be happier knowing she was happy. Plus, it was a way he could spend more time with her if she let him take her to church or eat dinner together when he dropped off groceries.

By shifting his mother’s perspective about what was most important to him, Lyle was able to help his mom get through rough patches with her arthritis.

They May Not Understand Your Situation or Ability to Help

It may not be easy for your mom or dad to see you as someone who is strong enough to handle your own job and family, as well as help them with their burdens. They may not know your financial situation or flexibility to provide caregiving.

Renee’s father was reluctant to accept her help even though he desperately needed it. Her parents had always had separate, very defined roles. Her father felt his responsibility was to work outside of the house and bring in the money, while her mother worked inside of the house, cooking, cleaning, and raising the children.

After her father retired, Renee’s mother was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis. Eventually, she was almost entirely wheelchair-bound and unable to take care of the cooking and cleaning.

Her father was at a complete loss about what to do. His cooking skills were limited to what he could throw on the grill or pop in the toaster, he had never used an iron or washing machine, and he never realized how much planning and shopping went into something as basic as keeping the refrigerator and pantry stocked.

Rather than accept help, he was picking up unhealthy options from fast food restaurants, wearing the same clothes over and over, and letting the house become dirty.

When Renee finally got so frustrated that she asked her father pointedly why he wouldn’t let her help, he said he couldn’t expect her to add to her list of things to do. She helped her husband with their construction business all day and then did all the cooking and cleaning and homework with her daughter when she got home. How could she possibly make the time to provide parent care?  

When caring for another don't forget to make time to care for yourself.jpgNow that Renee understood her father was worried about over-burdening her, and wasn’t realizing she had her own support system in place, she could make headway.

She explained to him that her husband didn’t just come home from work, and sit on the couch. She and her husband shared the responsibilities and she could lean on him to take on more of the load while she helped out with her mom.

Yes, they both had jobs, but it was running a successful business, which allowed them to make their own hours and gave them a lot of financial flexibility.

Once Renee’s father accepted she wasn’t going to “run herself into the ground on his account,” she and her father made compromises they could both live with. Renee offered to show him how to use a slow cooker for meals, but helped by planning the meals for the week and doing the grocery shopping for the ingredients. She got him to agree to let her provide home-cooked meals on Saturdays and Sundays for both families so there wasn’t much extra work involved. She taught him how to do laundry and convinced him to let her get them a housekeeper to clean the house once a week.

They May Ask for Help Indirectly

A widower in his 80s fell in his home, hurting his shoulder badly. Many hours later, at midnight, he called his daughter to tell her what happened. His request? Please bring in my mail tomorrow; I need to go the hospital and am about to call an ambulance.

In this particular case, it would have been hard for his daughter to miss what he was really asking (I need your help now), but your parent may be sending out more subtle signals. Are you picking up on them?

If you’re not sure if they are asking for help indirectly, you could try offering to help them indirectly. Casually bring up the importance you place on family support. Provide an example of how a friend of yours or co-worker is providing caregiving for their parents and how much you admire them for doing it. Let them know it would be important to you to help them if they needed anything, and then ask them if they know that. This might get them to open up and let you know they want your support. 

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