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Pride, fear may explain refusal to use physical aids

Carol Bursack of Minding Our Elders

Dear Carol: My mom loves to shop, attend church, see local theater and go to park events. We've done these things together for years. What's changed is that Mom had a stroke last year. She recovered well, but she is unsteady on her feet when conditions aren't perfect. She's supposed to use a walker for balance, at least when she goes out of the house, but she refuses. I'm always nervous that she will fall, so I want her to hold onto me, but she hates that. I've begged and I've nagged, but I don't get anywhere. How can I convince my stubborn mother to cooperate? — MC

Dear MC: You have a frustrating, though not unusual, situation. Compromised decision-making abilities and other signs of any type of dementia would signal a need to take your mom to a neurologist, so if you see her making poor decisions in other areas that would be the next step. However, it doesn't sound as if this is her problem. It seems as though she's simply having trouble adjusting to what she sees as a concession to aging. This is human if not smart. Still, absent dementia, she has a right to make her own decisions.

That being said, you also have rights and you have medical support, as well. My suggestion is that you step back from begging and nagging your mom about her walker. Remain loving, helpful and cheerful, but refuse to take her to events that don't offer sure footing if she won't use her walker or cheerfully use your arm. Emphasize that you don't want to feel responsible if she falls.

I don't think that your mom is being purposely stubborn. It's extremely frustrating for people to lose physical and/or mental abilities as they age. Many fear the complete loss of independence if they so much as give an inch to the aging process, even when some adjustments are in their best interest. It's as if they feel that making one concession will quickly lead to a downward spiral. Obviously, this is flawed thinking, but it's human.

After you've set your ground rules, let your mom make her own decisions. Once she realizes that her social life is suffering because of her refusal to respect your view, she's likely to come around on her own.

You sound like a wonderful daughter with whom your mom will want to spend time. If she mentions something that she'd like to do that could be risky and tells you that she will use her walker so that you don't have to worry, convey excitement and get ready for some fun. Don't even hint at the fact that she is "finally listening to reason," though, or you'll likely return to square one. Let her save face. Aging is tough and the adjustments are many. Compassion for what she likely sees as an assault to her pride should go a long way.

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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