Elder Care: Lessons Learned
The Elder family scenario represents some key points about “having the conversation.” Some things didn’t work out so well, but the siblings figured out how to re-strategize by leveraging the strongest relationship connection between Mildred and Elizabeth. Here are the key learning points we can pull from the story.
How To Talk To Your Parents About Elder Care
1. Plan Something Other Than an Ambush
As you can see from the story, the father felt ambushed, even though he needed help desperately. Gathering the siblings to have a talk with their parents obviously backfired. A better strategy emerged, but people storming out of the room could have been avoided. If one or two of the children had approached their father and mother without the whole clan present, the outcome might have been very different.
When someone feels attacked, it’s human nature to demonstrate fight- or-flight behavior, which Walter did by getting mad and running out of the room. Susie showed flight, as she felt attacked by what George said and left the house. Even though George and the siblings were well-intentioned, the first strategy didn’t work.
The good news is that if something like this does happen, you can always step back and re-strategize. This is where watching for opportunities can come into play.
2. Watch for Opportunities
The siblings noticed that their mother might be more open to making a change. Assigning Elizabeth to talk one-on-one with her mother opened a door to convincing the parents to accept that they needed help. Their mom’s willingness about possibly moving out of the house would open that conversation with her dad at some point. Mildred’s reaction to the large amount of money her husband gave to a friend was an opportunity for Elizabeth to figure out how to get her dad to seek help with his financial decisions.
3. Use Effective Communication That Parents Will Accept
Elizabeth knew her father needed to hear about getting help from someone he respected. As a take-charge man, she knew it would be difficult to hear the message from one of the children, especially after the way the family meeting had played out.
The siblings made a wise decision to put George in the background and leverage Elizabeth’s relationship with their mother. Elizabeth’s approach was one of discovery. She discovered some things that her mom might even be hesitant to share with her husband.
Elizabeth’s manner of finding out her mom’s feelings about the situation opened the door. Ultimately, Mildred realized that she needed to get more involved in the financial decisions or at least be aware of what Walter was doing with their money.
4. Allow Elder Family Members to Express How They Feel About a Change
While a family meeting is a good way to have a conversation with elder loved ones about making a change, sometimes it will come across wrong. In this case, asking the parents how they felt about managing the big house in a casual conversation might have allowed Mildred to express her struggles with managing the house and her duties. Every scenario in a family will be a little different. You must figure out the best way to discuss changes with elder loved ones that make the most sense for your family’s situation.
In the scenario, Walter felt like something was being pushed on him. No one asked his opinion about continuing the upkeep of the family home, so he resisted even more out of pride. If Walter was approached differently, based on his personality type and relationship history with the family, he might have reacted to George’s suggestions differently. Giving him more autonomy and control of his situation would allow him to be more open- minded about what his children were trying to communicate to him.
5. Keep Their Dignity
Your parents likely supported and raised you, your whole life. Even if they faltered along the way and you have unresolved issues with them, they still want to feel they have some authority and control over their lives. In some cases, they are not as mobile as they used to be, or their brain function is not as keen due to the aging process. Talking down to or verbalizing your frustration only creates more stress for them.
Consider how you might feel if you could no longer remember simple things or could not move around as fast as you used to. It can be frustrating. Your elder loved ones don’t need to be reminded of their limitations. Truly, some will become belligerent due to their mental state. You might have to let some of it go and learn to ignore it, knowing this can be a normal part of aging.
Stay as upbeat as you can. Your attitude can be an inspiration to your elder loved one. An article at psychologytoday.com states, “A new study by researchers in Ireland reports that having a positive attitude about aging may help prevent older adults from becoming frail, which, in turn, appears to keep their minds sharp. On the flip side, elder care researchers confirmed that having negative attitudes about the aging effect both physical and cognitive health in later years. The researchers concluded, ‘Negative perceptions of aging may modify the association between frailty and frontal cognitive domains in older adults.’
Your attitude toward elder care should support lifting them up rather than tearing them down, even though you are dealing with your own frustrations. This is a journey best traveled in a partnership as positive as possible.
While having the elder care conversation is an important first step to managing the situation with your elder loved ones, thoroughly assessing the situation is equally important. Getting your elder loved ones organized can include their household belongings, finances, and medical and legal documentation.
This is an excerpt from Wendy Williams Whiteman’s book Creative Caregiving, and Beyond.