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Carol Bradley Bursack
Carol Bradley Bursack

Minding our Elders: Help elderly parents plan for future without taking over

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SheSays Fargo, 58102
Fargo ND 101 5th Street North 58102

Dear Carol: My dad is quite healthy and active for a 78-year-old man, while Mom is a cancer survivor, has lung disease and rheumatoid arthritis. Her health continues to decline, but Dad keeps taking care of her with no regular help. They’ve always been very close.

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Neither my sister nor I live in their community, and we worry about Dad’s health declining from all of his years of providing care for Mom. When we suggest that he move Mom to assisted living, Dad gets upset. He says he does fine taking care of her and sees no reason to change what they are doing.

To be honest, he does seem to be doing well, but shouldn’t he be considering another plan? – Sean

Dear Sean: I hope that you are letting your dad know what a great job he is doing caring for your mom and that your only concern is for the future. You don’t want to get his defenses up by suggesting that your mom isn’t getting proper care.

Make it plain that you are only suggesting options, not telling him what to do. If you keep the mood light, it shouldn’t hurt if you talk with him about his future health and even suggest some options, but pushing too hard often backfires. With proper timing and tact, you can at some point bring up potentially workable options for the future.

In-home health agencies can be invaluable in situations such as these. Your dad could hire as many hours as he feels that he and your mom need without making a major change such as moving her to assisted living.

Perhaps, if your parents try some in-home help for a while, they can at the same time begin to look around at other types of living arrangements such as those that offer graduated care. In graduated care, they could live together for as long as that works, but if one of them needs a higher level of care, the move would be to another unit in a complex that is close by so that the spouse can easily visit.

While by today’s standards your dad’s not extremely old, he’s not a young man either. He is at an age where, caregiving aside, he will likely start to have health and ability issues of his own. I’m sure he’s aware of that, but he may not be ready to share his thoughts quite yet. Part of his reluctance to address these issues could be that he fears losing control of making his own decisions.

There are two issues going on here that need tact and understanding from you. One is that aging elders can resent their children trying to make decisions for them, even if the adult children feel that the changes are in their parents’ best interest.

The second issue is that it’s going to be hard for your dad to accept that he can’t provide all of your mother’s care. Give him space, but let him know that you are there to help. If you don’t push too hard, your dad may eventually make the decision to accept more assistance or make other living arrangements. If not, the passage of time is likely to force some changes.

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