When it comes to helping elderly parents, there are all kinds of things we tell ourselves to hold back on this sensitive and tough situation. We’re often in denial about the need for helping elderly parents. It’s a big admission to come to terms with, for both us and them. And, they may be glossing over things or covering up their issues. Unfortunately, this usually results in a crisis. So, take a good, hard look at this list and ask yourself if they ring true as reasons you’re not helping your elderly parents. It may be time to open up some honest conversation.
1. They’re doing fine.
This is probably what they tell you! But, you might have a nagging suspicion it isn’t true. Almost everyone that comes to us for help says they started noticing small issues, but their elderly parents insisted they were fine. The reality is that when we start helping elderly parents, we quickly discover just how “not fine” they were doing. Our eldercare experts have talked about this before, including our recent tips in “How Can I Stop Dad from Lying to Me About His Health?“
Even if your elderly parents are managing, little things may start to become more difficult. And, by helping elderly parents now with some of those things, you can help them stay safe, healthy, and happy.
2. They don’t need my help.
You might tell yourself they’re doing fine. Or, you might feel they don’t need your help because they have other support. Perhaps your parents are close to various friends and neighbors. Maybe they do a lot with their church and so it seems like they have plenty of people watching out for them.
Unfortunately, we’ve seen time and time again that this type of support has its limits. Particularly, neighbors and friends who may be the main source of support are often elderly themselves. We’ve also encountered many elders who would get into trouble when their “snowbird” neighbors returned north for the summer and they were left virtually alone.
Neighbors and friends may also be hesitant to intervene too much. Or, they may assume the family will step in or know more about what’s going on than they do. Both sides may be making assumptions, leaving the elder to fall into crisis.
3. My sister helps and doesn’t need/want me to jump in.
Another version of the above occurs when you have a sibling or other family member who serves as your parent’s primary caregiver. You might tell yourself, “My sister does it all and doesn’t need (or want) me involved.” However, caregiving is a lot for one person. And, at the very least you should have contingency plans and be updated on what’s going on with your parents.
Furthermore, this is a good time to mention sensitivity when pitching in. Are you offering unsolicited advice to someone who takes on most of the caregiving responsibilities? Do your suggestions sound more like questioning what they’re doing? Or, are you really listening to what they need? It’s easy to have misunderstandings on both sides when there’s one primary (often local) caregiver and others at a distance or less involved with the day to day.
4. My elderly parents don’t want any help.
Certainly, this may be true. Or, at least, it may be what they say or how they act. No one wants to feel helpless or dependent. So, the approach we take to offering or providing help might be getting us a “no, thanks” (or worse) when it’s really needed.
We might be swimming upstream against family dynamics, past history, and the ways we’re framing our offers of help. Along with the tips our experts offered in that article, we’ve also shared Successful Strategies When Your Loved One Refuses Help. You can respect their decisions as an adult, while not turning a blind eye. They may just need time to sit with it and process your concerns. You may need to offer different things. And, most importantly, listen to what they’re experiencing and feel they need.
5. Dad doesn’t drive at night (or only drives around the neighborhood).
This works, until it doesn’t. Almost everyone who ever came to us after their parent got lost or into an accident while driving says they thought they were okay because of such safety limits.
However, as our elderly parents make accommodations to their activities, we should be carefully keeping an eye out. And, we must realize it is more a sign of needing help than a reason they don’t need help. Driving is a complex activity that requires mental and physical acuity. Reducing night driving is a smart move for many elders. But, as they begin to feel more uncomfortable driving in different situations it only takes one unusual situation on the road to turn deadly. And, as we all know, unusual situations on the road are not so unusual!
6. Mom’s forgetfulness is just part of getting older (or “it’s just a little dementia, definitely not Alzheimer’s”).
If you’re noticing forgetfulness, there’s a strong chance it’s more than normal aging. Check out our 10 Warning Signs of Alzheimer’s and Other Dementias. The truth is, many elderly parents make efforts to cover up their cognitive difficulties. Therefore, if you’re noticing problems, it may just be the tip of the iceberg.
In the early stages, helping elderly parents with some tasks can prevent bigger problems. For example, a complex task like managing bills becomes difficult for someone with dementia. Their finances can turn into a disaster. Your elderly parents may be vulnerable to scams. They also might start having difficulty remembering appointments and managing their household. On one visit, things might be slightly out of order. By the next visit, the home could be in total disarray. All of this can be prevented with a little household help.
7. I’m not capable of helping elderly parents.
Maybe you think you can’t do it because you have no experience. Or, you think you need expertise in their medical needs. But, in this sense, it’s a lot like becoming a parent. Most of us don’t start out with a lot of experience or expertise.
Also, you can (and probably should) get a helping hand from experts for various aspects of caregiving. For example, you might need advice on picking the best Medicare plan or applying for Medicaid or VA benefits. When your parent is hospitalized, you should consider calling on a patient advocate to navigate and plan for discharge. Therefore, you don’t need to know everything to be able to help your elderly parents. You just need to know where to turn.
Similarly, some people will say they’re not the caregiving type. But you don’t have to have a nurturing personality to be a good caregiver. Maybe you bring different skills to the table. There are times when a more practical perspective helps as much as being nurturing. And, we’ve found that many caregivers discover new aspects of themselves. Or, they develop a different relationship with their elderly parents.
Another aspect of this might be if you don’t get along with your parents. Helping elderly parents when they haven’t helped you can be tough. Some families are estranged. We recognize that not all situations are the same. You do have to maintain your own safe boundaries. There may be cases where this means you find help for your elderly parents, while not being directly involved.
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