The Challenges Of Caring For Aging Parents From A Distance
July 18, 2016
I speak so often with seniors whose children are living out of town and whom they see relatively infrequently. When it comes time to make a decision for the betterment of the parent’s health, social and overall wellness, oftentimes the children feel they know the situation better than their own parents who are actually living the situation daily.
When the decision needs to be made as to whether the parents should move to a retirement residence or bring in some form of care, the children may feel they should have a larger say in the decision than they should. This disconnect results in argument, uncertainty and guilt on the part of the parents.
I don’t think this is due to the children not caring about the wellness of their parents but is more based on a few factors:
Parents are good at hiding their aches and pains.
Children don’t see the daily grind.
Children remember their parents how they use to be.
Children are upset at the prospect of losing their family home.
Parents are good at hiding their aches and pains
Of course they are! They have most likely been doing this all your life, not wanting you to be concerned with “adult problems.” Some of the medical issues that might have been minor when you were young have most likely come full circle and are creating some real issues now. Knee problems, back problems, sleep issues, etc. are now getting to be debilitating, inhibiting your parents from getting around without pain. No more standing in the kitchen long enough to chop those vegetables for mom’s famous soup or having the energy to do much more then read a book or fix a piece of toast for dinner.
Children don’t see the daily grind
When you were younger, what did your parent(s) do for their social life? Did they have a group of friends or a few close ones? Were they members of a church group? Play golf? Bridge? What does their social life look like now (look like, not sound like)?
Clearly you have moved out. Maybe your parent has lost a spouse, or is taking care of an ill spouse. What is their friend situation like? Are they still able to make it out to play bridge, go out for lunch or even a coffee? Variations of these situations are now happening resulting in a more secluded, perhaps lonelier day…every day.
Children remember their parents how they use to be
Do you remember your dad as the strong silent type? Was he active and always taking you to your Little League games and on family outings? Was your mom nurturing and constantly reassuring you that everything was okay? Did she run around the yard with you and play while dinner was in the oven?
Although they are still these same people at heart, they are truly different now, and what they once gave you in the form of love and support, they now need from you. They need you to lend an ear and problem solve with them.
Children are upset at the prospect of losing their family home
Your family home, a symbol of warmth, comfort, familiarity and most of all, memories. It’s hard to think about the day that mom and dad might not be “holding down the fort.” Or that Christmas dinner will be moved somewhere else. Or just the realization that one day you will not be able to go back to that home that once was everything to you, the centre of your family.
These feelings are all valid and need to be dealt with. However, your family home that once was for four or five is now for one or two, full of stairs, equipment needing maintenance indoors and out, and let’s face it… a lot of upkeep.
So what is the best process, how do you find out what is truly going on with your parents, deal with your symbolic loss and help everyone come to a solid, safe decision? Here are a few steps and suggestions that might help you work through these issues and get everyone on the same page:
When speaking with your parents, really listen to them. How are they eating? What did they do this week? Have they mentioned any pains or other stumbling blocks?
Visit, if you can. See with your own eyes what the home situation is. Is the home clean? Are there groceries in the fridge? How are your parents getting out and about? Do they have plans for your visit? At the very least, if you can’t visit, send someone else who can have an unbiased look at what is going on and who can help make suggestions for next steps.
What are the options? Are you helping to choose what is best for your parents or for yourself? Have your parents already made the decision and are looking for support from you?
If the decision is to move, sort through your own emotions. Is there something that you can keep that will give you those warm memories of home? Take keepsake photos of the house which you can treasure.
With these steps, progress can be made and your parents can have happier, safer years ahead. But, take advantage of my experience. If you are out of town and not overly involved as it is, don’t come in with demands and suggestions because you think you know what is going on. In this case, it is best to go along with what your parent(s) decide (if it is safe and doable) and support them from afar. Secondly, your childhood home is full of memories and warmth now. But if your parents stay too long resulting in injury, sickness and, worse yet, death, those memories will be overshadowed quickly, and the result will require swift actions of downsizing and selling the family home and good memories will be replaced with bad.