Tough Conversations with an Aging Parent

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Whoever said being a kid was going to be easy! As our parents age, we are met with the dilemma of the realization that they may not be the same way they used to be. When we were small, we looked to our parents to be strong, competent and to have all of the answers. Now the tables may have turned slightly, and it can be hard to accept. Tough conversations, many of them much like they may have had with us growing up, are now up to us to have with them. Here are just a few of the dreaded topics that can any child of a senior parent may encounter.

DRIVING

What do you say when you know your parent is no longer fit to drive? Hoping that your parent will just come to the realization that they are no longer capable due to vision problems, hearing, reaction time, etc., well, that probably isn’t going to happen. If you think they are just going to come up to you and hand over the keys, think again. Asking your parent to drive with you in the vehicle to allow you to access their driving skills can give you an insight into how serious the issue may be. Before starting the conversation, have some ideas for solutions such as a schedule for you or another sibling or friend to drive them to appointments, grocery shopping etc. This is also an opportunity to spend quality time with your parent. Some of my most fond memories are of when I took my grandmother to her weekly grocery shopping trip. Because she could no longer drive safely, we had a standing “date” for our weekly outing. Sometimes we would go out to eat afterwards or go home and cook together.

NUTRITION AND MEDICATION

Staying healthy means eating regular meals and taking medications as directed. As we age, our taste buds may not function efficiently. Food doesn’t taste the way it used to. Appetite may decrease. Access to food that is appealing or packaging that is hard to open can deter seniors from eating. Forgetfulness or not understanding how important medications are can lead to skipped doses, or overdosing. Going over favorite foods, opening packages and putting food into easy access containers can be helpful. Cooking small meals and putting them into freezer safe /microwave safe containers is another way to insure a meal is ready to eat. Setting up meds in a weekly dose type container makes it easier for seniors to keep up with.

BILLS AND FINANCES

Managing finances can be tricky. Most people do not want to turn over their checkbook or bill paying to someone else. This is a real control issue and needs to be taken on with respect for your parents. Ask them about having bills automatically paid through the bank, and deposits such as social security checks made directly into their account. Control is maintained and at the same time, transactions are made securely.

PERSONAL CARE AND HYGIENE

This is a delicate issue and a hard topic to approach. It can range in severity from incontinence, to skipping showers, to not going to the eye doctor or making that appointment for a hearing screening. Poor hygiene is one of the early signs that something is wrong. Sometimes one parent will try to take care of the other, and the result is that usually they both suffer. The caretaker ends up in as bad shape or worse, as the person they are trying to care for. Suggesting home health come in to assist may not be met with acceptance by your parent. Sometimes involving their physician to help make the idea seem more of a medical issue (which it really is) will be necessary.

There are many topics that come up as our parents age, but the most important thing to remember is to allow them to maintain their respect and dignity. Don’t talk down to your parents. Don’t treat them like children. Listen! Remember to allow them to express their ideas, fears and concerns and discuss them truthfully. Freedom and control are two important parts of life that we feel like we lose as we age. Someone is always telling us what we can’t do anymore. Sometimes our bodies let us know before anyone has to tell us! All any of us can ask is that we are allowed to do as much as we possibly can for as long as we want to do it. Sometimes the combination of issues related to health and well-being are such that the conversation about assisted living or skilled nursing must be discussed.

Visiting an assisted living and touring skilled nursing can take some of the fear out of what that can be like. Times have changed and these types of environments can be enjoyable and enriching while providing peace of mind for safety and security. The important thing is allow our parents to keep living.

Article written by Sunset Home Director of Nursing Sandra Van Zandt, a program of Lutheran Sunset Ministries.

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