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Is forcing at-risk but content elder to leave his home wise?

Carol Bradley Bursack

Dear Carol: My dad is 85 and lives quite happily on his own. He has arthritis pain and has fallen at least twice, though he doesn't tell me unless I notice a bruise or limp. He has always been healthy but stubborn and he likes his nighttime drinks. I don't want to take away his drinks or anything else that he enjoys, but I worry.

He has a doctor and grudgingly goes yearly for his checkup but Dad is wily, and the doctor is busy so Dad's cholesterol prescription gets renewed and that's about it. When I suggest to Dad that we go together for another visit to let the doctor know about his falls, he gets furious.

Because being stubborn is a lifetime personality trait, I can't blame that on brain problems and his memory is better than mine. My wife tells me to visit often and let him live the way he wants to. What's the best thing to do in situations like this? PM

Dear PM: Watching the decline of a parent is emotional and stressful for adult children under any circumstances. I'm sorry to say that you're dealing with something that has no one right answer for everyone. If it helps I can definitely tell you that you aren't alone in this quandary.

It seems to me that you have two choices, neither of which is perfect. You can, as your wife says, let your dad continue to live the way he chooses. Check on him often, encourage others to visit him, but accept his choice.

An action that you can take is to suggest Meals on Wheels to him. Not only would he have a hot meal delivered, but he'd have another set of eyes to check on him regularly, though you needn't mention this part to him. The volunteers who deliver the meals are trained to observe as well as visit with the people who are receiving the meals, so this is a double win.

Additionally, you can insist that he wear a personal alarm so that you are notified if he has an emergency. Use this as a bargaining tool. These alarms are non-intrusive so he should at least bend this far to ease your mind.

If your dad had dementia, my answer would be different, but your dad has a good brain and has made his wishes known, so I think you may need to accept how he is. Most people are better off with socialization, and I'd generally suggest assisted living for someone his age, especially someone who has experienced some falls.

However, there are people, and your dad seems to be one of them, who have a fierce need for independence. We need to respect that, as well.

Years ago, I had a neighbor like that. Between my daily visits and his personal alarm for emergencies, Joe lived into his late 80s happily drinking his cocktails and watching the birds that he fed in his backyard.

When he fell one last time and broke his hip, he went into a nursing home but only lasted six weeks. I believe he had the life he wanted and any other choice would have hastened his decline.

I doubt that you can force your dad to move at this time without causing undue harm, so keeping tabs on him may be the wisest thing that you can do. Let him enjoy himself and be grateful that he does so well on his own.

Eventually, there may be an emergency that forces the issue, but until that time, your dad sounds as if, with a few adjustments, he could continue to live alone for some time. If an emergency does change things, then you'll have to take over.

Carol Bradley Bursack is the author of a support book on caregiving and runs a website supporting caregivers at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached at carolbursack@msn.com.

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