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Aging Parents Lie

Note regarding “lying”:  I’m calling what we do lying, but it’s difficult to express the softness with which I’m speaking.  I don’t know that there is a word that describes the self-protective elements associated with what we usually call lying.  Just know that there is a touch of humor and compassion beneath the written words.

People often lie to make themselves look better in the eyes of others–this includes parents.  While staying with my parents, I overheard their conversations with my siblings.

A snippet of my dad’s conversation with my sister:

So how was the doctor’s visit Dad?  Oh, nothing out of the ordinary.  Everything is fine.

But I had been a part of that doctor’s visit and this is what was discussed:  the doctor told my dad he had to get on a reduced sleep schedule and not sleep 12 hours every night, plus nap after each daily activity (eating breakfast, reading the paper, and watching CNN).  He recommended that dad find ways to engage his mind and body so he’s not so bored.  He also talked about dad’s heart condition (heart failure) and his recommendation for them to consider assisted living.  The visit lasted 45 minutes!  I had primed the doc before he saw my parents.  He agreed to be “the bad guy.” 

My mom was thrilled that the doctor told my dad to get up earlier in the morning because his sleeping until 11 or later really messed up their routine.  That’s one reason they hired Wayne and asked him to come at 9:30am.  The thinking was that a morning care giver visit would help regulate Dad’s morning sleep schedule.  But here’s another “lie”–my mom is the one with the weird sleep pattern.  In fact, the first day Wayne came, my dad was up and ready and my mother was still sleeping.  Her habit is to sleep when she darn well pleases.  If she doesn’t sleep well one night, she’ll take a 4-5 hour nap the next day.  Try creating a regular schedule around that sleep routine! Truth be told, this is a pattern I could naturally fall in to if I allowed myself to be that “flexible.”  The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

Wayne also squealed to me (in an email) that my dad missed taking his meds on Sunday.  When I talked to my parents last night I asked how Dad was doing taking his meds.  Mom said “great!” 

I think they’re “lying” for two reasons:  they don’t like the “truth” and they’re trying to keep us from butting in.  Oh, and because of my dad’s dementia, he just forgets!

So why did I write all of that?  I guess it’s to shine the light on part of what worries me.  When caring for aging parents at great distances–I’m in Kansas and they’re in North Carolina–not knowing if they’re telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, adds a layer of worry.  But this worry is MY problem.  Any suggestions?

End note:  Funny thing – just thinking about this topic has brought me new insights and peace.  I’ve found a way to put this aging process into perspective (at least for now) so I’ve been sleeping much better and worrying less. 

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  1. Helga says:

    Both my parents have passed, but I had the experience of taking care of each of them for a couple of years before that and found that they felt the need to “protect” me from worry by telling me half-truths and outright fibs. They also were trying to avoid “that look” that I got when they’d ‘fess up about not following their health care plan or some other thing. It was very much like parenting my teenager is now, but with the added layer of worry and sadness that probably sharpened my responses to them more than I’d like to think. I’ve heard from most of my friends who are caring for their aging parents that their folks do the same thing. They don’t want to let you down or worry you, and they’re having trouble transitioning from caregiver to care recipient. I’m not sure what to do about it other than what you are doing. I happened to live in the same apartment complex as my parents, so I didn’t have the long-distance issue, although I did have to work outside the home and take care of my son, which meant that I depended on in-home caregivers and visiting nurses, and made similar agreements with them that you seem to have made with Wayne and your father’s doctor. And seeing the worry as something that’s yours, and not necessarily mandatory, helps immensely. I wish I’d been able to come to that point myself – it would’ve made the whole thing infinitely less dramalicious and exhausting.

  2. vicki says:

    Hi,
    I like the idea of the list of daily reminders but for their
    enjoyment and surprise you could occasionally put in something unexpected like, “pat your head and rub
    your tummy” “think of one of your good qualities”
    “pat the cat” “call a friend on the phone”
    “write a little poem about breakfest.”
    Knowing who the list is for would help with what to add
    that would surprise them.

  3. Hi Helga – thank you for the insight about how they may be trying to protect us by telling partial truths. That helps. And it also helps to think that I’m sorta kinda on the right path with how I’m approaching this. Whew! I’ve often felt totally unprepared and clumsy. And so sad. I cried a lot while I was there – a few times even in front of them (they never cry). But on so many levels I’m feeling much more peaceful and compassionate about the situation and about them. So this feels like progress!

    Vicki – wouldn’t it be fun if you were there to help them generate the daily list! Maybe I could ask Wayne or Angela to think about doing that!

    Thanks! Cheryl

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