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Published June 02, 2012, 11:30 PM

Bursack: Dad’s slow, cautious walking worries son

DEAR CAROL: My dad, who was once coordinated and fast moving, now seems to do everything in slow motion. He’s been diagnosed with some cognitive degeneration, but his memory is not too bad. I can understand his fear of falling, especially because he also has macular degeneration, but his extreme caution seems to indicate more fear than is necessary.

By: Carol Bradley Bursack, INFORUM

DEAR CAROL: My dad, who was once coordinated and fast moving, now seems to do everything in slow motion. He’s been diagnosed with some cognitive degeneration, but his memory is not too bad. I can understand his fear of falling, especially because he also has macular degeneration, but his extreme caution seems to indicate more fear than is necessary. Frankly, I get impatient. How do we help him feel more secure about his movements so he can speed up? – Colin

DEAR COLIN: Some insight into why your dad’s slowness bothers you could work miracles in how you view his “problem.” Your dad has good medical reasons to move carefully. Besides that, he’s no longer at a time in his life where speed is essential. It might help if you ask yourself if this is a problem for your dad or just for you. I’m not being critical, only reminding you of something that most of us need to think about. Sometimes our own attitudes toward our elder’s behaviors are really a bigger issue than the behavior itself. We want them to be healthy and young like they used to be and we hate seeing the decline. Add to that the natural impatience many of us feel to “get on with things,” and it’s easy to get frustrated.

Try to put yourself in your dad’s place. Many professional and family caregivers, myself included, have attended caregiving sensitivity training sessions offered by some nursing homes. These sessions can give us insight into the care receiver’s world.

If you attended a session, you’d gain insight into your dad’s situation by using goggles to alter your vision while wearing headphones with scrambled sounds that would cause mental confusion. During the session, you’d be asked to try to navigate the room, complete simple tasks and even climb steps, all with your senses impaired. Going through one of these sessions provides most caregivers with understanding and often a new respect for the care receiver’s courage.

At the very least, try to work on your own expectations about how your dad should be able to move. Remember that this is his speed and he’s trying to overcome fear and feel comfortable with his movements.

To be certain that there’s no additional reason for him to fear falls, he probably should see his doctor to rule out medication interactions or an infection. Balance problems can be a sign of cognitive issues, but can also be caused by medications or a low-grade infection. I’ve known a couple of elders who’ve had their balance improve after an infection was discovered and treated. Also, there may be physical therapy that could help your dad. That being said, your learning to understand and accept his fear may be the most important thing you can do for both of you.

Carol Bradley Bursack is the author of a support book on caregiving and runs a website supporting caregivers at www.mindingourelders.com.

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