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Helping (Stubborn) Aging Parents

I spent the last two weeks in North Carolina helping Mom and Dad get settled after Mom spent 3.5 months in a rehab hospital after a fall.  Because Dad has mild dementia, he spent that period of time first at my brother’s in Michigan, and then at my sister’s in Ohio.  Mom is 87 and Dad is 84.  Until recently Dad had the body, and Mom had the mind.  Now Dad’s body is winding down as well.

Here’s a picture of them last year when we celebrated our visit at the Steak and Lobsteer (get it?).  They look pretty young don’t they!

Phil and Freda Miller '07

In an impromptu telephone call, my sister told Mom we were worried about her and Dad, and reiterated that we’d like them to move up to Michigan into assisted living where we could more easily help them and visit more frequently.  Over the next several hours, Mom got so upset that she made herself sick for 4 days.  She said we should stop worrying and that she would never ask any of us again for help.  She said that if we made her move before she was ready, she’d never never never never get over it and would die of upset.  She was a pip to be around after that call–swaggering independently with her walker, doing laundry, refusing any assistance, planning garden projects and weekly Sunday open house visits for their friends.

My days were spent taking them to doctor’s appointments; typing up a list of contacts for them including doctors, hospitals, utilities, and friends; shopping for groceries; cooking meals; buying a new answering machine and phone set up (theirs was winding down); sorting through Mom’s 50 years of clutter; and setting up a support network for them after I was gone.  The systems I put in place were like shifting sand disappearing under the weight of our footprints.

Just when I thought I had Dad trained to take pills from his weekly AM/PM pill box, I watched him pick up a stray bottle of heart medicine, open it and get ready to pop a pill in his mouth.  “No Dad, only take pills from the pill box!”

Before I left I showed them how to use the new phones and answering machine and Dad’s automatic blood pressure machine.  I went over the simple steps several times sensing that they were understanding only half of it.  We had hired a morning and an evening person to come to the house–and hopefully they could help them stay safe–at least until Mom decided they were costing too much money and let them go.

More often than I would like, I wake up uneasy, with more “failsafe” ideas for their health and safety.

Because I’m a life coach, I’m looking for ways to learn from these experiences with my aging parents so that I can live a better life and help others to do the same.  Over the coming months I’ll be writing about these things—things that will help us live healthy, happy lives as we age.  Here is my initial list of healthy aging essentials:

  1. We need to do our best to stay strong into old age–this takes more than just day-to-day physical activity.
  2. We need to eat nutritious food–at least 80% of our diet.
  3. We need to minimize excesses–spending too much, eating too much, buying too many things, worrying too much.
  4. We need to have a supportive network of family and friends.
  5. We need to have healthy routines and habits in place.
  6. We need to face our fears and move beyond them.
  7. We need to have a good attitude about life.

Please share your comments.  If you have insights about aging or a story about experiences with your aging parents, please click the comment link below.

Together, we may be able to make this care-giving and aging process work better for all.

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  1. Pam says:

    After 28 yrs as a healthcare professional (a respiratory therapist) and having been thru this with my parents …..

    I hate to be a spoil-sport (and I could be wrong since I don’t know your parents or the degree of dementia) but I don’t think the list is going to work. Dementia is dementia and one needs a degree of cognitive awareness to follow a list. Even if it’s working now …. it may not work for long. So I would come up with a back up plan now!

    I’m wondering….. do you have a list of your parents medications? Could any of the medications your dad is on be contributing to his dementia? Older folks are sometimes very sensitive to pharmaceuticals.

    As a nutritionist (I’m one course away from my Masters in holistic nutrition)….. I would suggest your parents eat a whole foods diet…. lots of fresh veggies and fruits and take a good multivitamin (not the grocery store variety). Of course, I know it’s hard to make changes and hard to get our parents to change their way of doing things. But the less food they eat with additives, fake sugars, etc the better for their immune systems and your dads dementia.

    It’s TOUGH to not live close to them. I can’t imagine how you’re dealing with that. {{{hugs}}}

    Someone does need to go to doc visits with them. So many times when I took my dad to his doc visits he wouldn’t tell the doc everything there was to tell and wouldn’t remember what the doc said.

    And yes docs can be the “bad guy” for decisions of making safer living arrangements….. it does sound like your parents should be in assisted living. Those decisions are easier coming from a doc. Older folks are more apt to listen to a doc than to you.

    Gotta feel bad for the old folks…… it’s hard to admit you can’t take care of you like you used to ….. and it causes a certain amount of anger when your body lets you down. You know that kind of anger — anger where blame can’t be placed anywhere — usually results in depression. In situations like that it’s good to use “I feel” statements. Such as “I feel sad your arthritis is so painful” …….. I feel statements coming from you will help your parents to talk about how they feel.

  2. Pam says:

    I have to add just one story……

    I had an aunt, Aunt Marie, who had cerebral palsy and was in a wheelchair. When she got older and my mother and her other sister got to old to take care of her she went to live in a nursing home.

    That wasn’t really a sad occassion…. it was the first time in her life she had a life of her own. She had always lived with my Aunt Emma and her family.

    But she had a roommate at the nursing home. Her name was Vi. Vi was in her early 80’s. When you would go visit Aunt Marie ….. Vi would call you over to her side of the room and tell you to fix her bedspread. Well, there was nothing wrong with her bedspread. And Vi didn’t have cognitive difficulties. She would get angry if we said the bedspread looked ok to us.

    When you stop to think about it that half of the room in the nursing home is all that Vi had left of her world. Sure she had family and yes they visited her …. But the only thing she had control over in her life was that half of the room.

    So we would “fix” her bedspread and Vi would be happy.

  3. Thanks Pam – great insights. The story about the bedspread highlights the fact that we “younger people” really don’t know much about the life of the elderly…..unless we look deeply, ask, and imagine. That story explains a lot to me.

    Your other comments are helpful too. I took my parents to see ALL of their doctors during the two weeks I was there and it was a good thing–because I was able to tell the docs the “truth.” And you’re right that my parents didn’t remember that much of what was discussed during the visit. Since the 4 siblings live far from my parents, we need to have some other systems in place–hence the am and pm caregivers we’ve set up. Before a doctor’s visit, I will talk with which ever one is going to take them to the doc and give them a short list of things to ask. They can also report back what was discussed. One doctor also invited me to call his nurse any time. I think that will work well. I should get the nurse’s number for each of the docs now that I think about it. So many things to think about :)

    Thank you for contributing to the knowledge piece and emotional piece we are collecting here in this space. Cheryl

  4. Bindle says:

    Dear Cheryl –
    Having aging stubborn parents who live at a distance is stressful. Your mom sounds like she plans to be independent as long as possible. If she is like my mom, her eating and sleeping habits and other activities are completely out of your control.

    Your dad is along for the ride, unless you and your siblings can arrange assisted living. Could someone from your dad’s church or club give him rides to do/see things to help him maintain mental health? Also, have his meds reviewed if that hasn’t been done.

    My mom wanted more than anything to stay in the drivers seat until the very end. My job, as she saw it, was to bring joy into her life and not mess with her decisions. When trouble arose, my brothers and I tried to open up more options. If she was in danger, we took action to improve the outcome. Protecting your parents from harm is important, but a certain amount of letting go is also necessary. All of us are heading toward an inevitable end. How we get there seems to be a mix of the love that surrounds us, the life options available to us, and our choices.

    If your mom is truly stubborn, you may not be able to influence her much. But you can share love and caring. Keeping the health benefits of the path of least resistance in mind for yourself may be helpful. Don’t let worry make you ill!

  5. Bindle – it sounds like you know my parents! My dad’s meds have been evaluated every which way from Sunday. My parents are good at seeing doctors – maybe even too good :)

    I think your advice is superb – I’m taking it! Thanks for sharing. Cheryl

  6. […] writes about her aging parents and how they sometimes lie about how things are […]


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