Whether or not your parent or older relative might be cognitively impaired, it is crucial to remember this. If there is potential Alzheimer’s, it can be even more important to help a parent feel heard and validated because this will reduce stress and help the brain function better. If you can afford it, consider investing in a few sessions with a relationship therapist or another person trained to facilitate family conversations. It can be especially productive to work with someone experienced in helping families address aging issues, like a geriatric care manager
There is usually no easy answer to this conflict. Once an older person becomes more vulnerable in body or mind, you cannot have perfect safety as well as perfect independence. When the trade-offs are identified and goals discussed, it’s usually possible to help everyone feel better.
- Living in their own home for as long as possible
- Dictating the terms of their daily life
- Living their usual life for as long as possible
- Minimizing pain, illness and suffering
- Spending quality time with family and loved ones
- A good quality of life, which generally means more enjoyable activities and fewer stressful or burdensome activities.
Safety is important, but don’t fall into the trap of assuming it should always be your family’s No. 1 priority. Because when faced with a trade-off between safety and autonomy, most older adults choose autonomy. This is especially true of people with dementia. An approach called “positive risk-taking” is now being advocated as a way to make communities more dementia-friendly.
Some common underlying issues include:
- A need to minimize guilt
- A fear of conflict with other siblings
- A fear that a parent is going to decline further and require more help
- A desire to know that a parent is happy and comfortable
- A desire for control and for knowing what will happen next
- A fear that what is happening to our parents might eventually happen to us.
People being people, we all have a tendency to try to address our needs by wanting other people to do something differently, or by trying to keep things from changing. But as the relationship experts have been telling us for decades, the best approach is to accept that things change and to focus on what we can do differently. We shouldn't try to meet our own needs by controlling what others do.
Even when you become informed, are thoughtful in your approach, and obtain the right kind of assistance, helping older parents through this stage of life will be a challenge. Of course, you will worry about them. And they will probably never be entirely free of reluctance to make changes and accept help.
Some families get stuck in a rut of conflict and frustration, whereas others find ways to move forward more constructively. It might feel like an extra effort to do these things. But by investing in your ability to better navigate these difficult situations with your parents, your family will get closer to what we all want: less stress for ourselves and better quality of life for our parents.