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Early memory issues alone shouldn't force contented elder from home

Carol Bursack of Minding Our Elders

Dear Carol: My dad is 81 and lives alone in his small home that he loves. What he can’t do, he hires done. He’s a positive person who is fun to be around, but he’s also proud. While his memory recall has slowed, that seems normal. He writes himself notes to remember to do what needs to be done. Still, I don’t see that he has a huge problem living relatively safely and well. I go with him to his doctor and the doctor seems to think that Dad's doing extremely well. The issue is my brother. He lives 1,000 miles away and only occasionally visits. When he was last here, he saw Dad’s notes and told me that I need to confront him about his memory and get him moved to some kind of care. He says it’s for Dad’s safety. I hate to see Dad’s spirit shattered, and a confrontation like this would do that. I want Dad safe, but I also want him happy. Who is right? -- Jenny

Dear Jenny: I can only go by what you’ve told me in your letter, but considering that his doctor hasn’t suggested a different living arrangement, I’m inclined to agree with you.

As far as confrontation goes, there are few personal circumstances where I think that such an approach is helpful. Confrontation tends to make people defensive when a more gentle approach, taking into consideration the feelings of the other person, can save face. This goes for elders who may be forgetful as much as it does for situations with spouses and friends.

Has your dad mentioned any memory concerns to you? I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s joked a bit about his need for notes and his slowed recall, but I’m wondering if he shows signs of worry or fear. You could ask him if he’s afraid of a health emergency while he’s alone.

Let that conversation lead into asking him if he’d be willing to wear a personal alarm to use in case he needs assistance. Let him know that this is for your peace of mind. You can even use humor to apologize for fussing over him. This concession to vulnerability is generally acceptable to someone like him.

In a separate conversation, you could ask how he feels about an eventual move to assisted living. These discussions, done in a natural, informal manner, would likely work far better than cornering him and making demands.

My suggestion would be to keep an eye on him, but not be overbearing or disrespectful of his rights.

The fact that your dad will hire someone to do what he can’t do shows me that his judgement is still operational and he isn’t letting pride or stubbornness get in the way of intelligent solutions to problems. My belief is that contentment is more important than absolute safety, and you seem to be striking a good balance. I hope that your brother can respect his Dad’s wishes and trust your instincts.

Carol Bradley Bursack is the author of a support book on caregiving and runs a website supporting caregivers at She can be reached at