Last week, Home Instead Senior Care sponsored Challenges of Communication between Older Adults and their Children–a Webinar that is part of the Family Caregiver Support Series offered through the American Society on Aging.
The key points are below. The italicized comments are my own experiences. My intent in publishing these notes is to provide you with an opportunity to also reflect upon your own experiences. Together we will improve how we communicate with loved ones or help our clients with their communications.
Given the length of this article, it is divided two parts–Part 2 will be published next week.
WHEN & HOW to Open Lines of Communication
As our parents age and need our help, they will continue to view us and communicate with us as their children. Oftentimes, we respond in kind–as children. When the time comes for us to help them, we find it difficult to have adult conversations. For this reason, Dr. Amy D’Aprix advises us to follow the 40-70 Rule®–we should begin having candid conversations with our parents while they’re competent to do so — when we’re at least 40 years old and our parents are 70.
She cautions that it will likely take many such conversations before our parents feel comfortable with our offers to help. We need to make time to be patient and to listen.
During the three years following my mother’s passing, I wanted my father to visit my husband and me in California. He didn’t want to because he had “so much work to do.” I gently kept after him every month while we talked by telephone and whenever I visited. During one two-week visit–that would be my last–I slowed down and tried to move and respond at his pace. I listened to his stories and helped him with whatever he was working on. At the very least, I decided to spend time with him before returning home to California. After the first week, he surprised me when he succumbed to my invitations to visit us in California.
Dr. D’Aprix suggests that we keep an open mind. If we reach an impasse, she suggests we express our frustration then try again later.
During the first months after my mother’s passing, I wanted my father to get away to have a little fun. He didn’t want to. He said there was too much to catch up on after all the years he cared for my mom while she suffered with congestive heart failure. I was so flustered. “You’re not getting any younger and this work will remain. I’d like to have some father-daughter time. You and Ma always wanted to live in California. Can you visit for just a few days?” After losing my mother, I wanted to spend some fun time with my father. It took me three years before he agreed to “visit.” Given how much his dementia had progressed by this time, I bought him a one-way ticket to California.
The following are a few of the difficult topics we will likely need to discuss with our parents.
Moving from the Family Home
Most of us want to remain at home as long as possible. Aging parents may fear loss of independence and all that is familiar if we pressure them to move. There are other options; such as, in-home care.
Once in our California home, he wanted to return “home.” My husband and I promised to return home with him “the next day.” But after a few days of tasty colorful meals, attentive care, and new friends who paid him a lot of attention, he only occasionally mentioned his Milwaukee home.
Money and Finances
We must have financial discussions with our loved ones; especially, if they are mismanaging money–giving away money to questionable organizations or forgetting to pay bills.
An Armenian Genocide survivor, my father came to America at age ten and quickly learned to rely on himself to earn an income, get married, buy his own home, and have children. He was fiercely independent and successful at saving money despite meager wages as a machinist. By the time he asked me to help, he didn’t believe me when I told him what he had or showed him his statements. Over time, he granted me power of attorney. It was then that I was surprised by what he had–a small fortune to tide him through retirement and his subsequent care.
Giving up one’s freedom to go wherever and whenever one wants is a major challenge–particularly, for men.
My father enjoyed his independence and regularly attended community events. Unknown to me the police had cited him several times. My sister and brother were alerted when our father tried to drive on the sidewalk or forgot how to get from his Wisconsin home to his brother’s, in Illinois. He pulled onto the shoulder of the expressway and began walking until the police picked him up.
It wasn’t until my father went to a suburban hospital where he thought a seminar was being held that his car was “lost” permanently. We learned later that he parked the car at the hospital and after learning there was no seminar, took the bus home. Over the weeks and months that followed he’d say his car was “stolen” or that it would cost “too much to get it from where they were holding it.”
What are the clues that our parents’ health is declining?
Usually, we know something is wrong when
- our parents’ organized homes grow cluttered with papers and even garbage;
- the refrigerator is empty or expired food lines the kitchen shelves;
- they look dirty and smell;
- they have trouble remembering who we are; or
- they have forgotten to look through the mail as their bills remain unpaid.
When I arrived to my father’s Milwaukee home, I found pink rice in the kitchen cabinets, tons of plastic bags in the cupboards among stacks of empty foil containers, and expired juice and milk in the refrigerator. My father was wearing the same shirt and pants he wore my husband and I saw him five months earlier (except they were dirtier and so was he). I learned why he kept saying, “The gas and electric people are after me.” After being prompt in paying bills for all the eighteen years I lived with him, he had not paid bills in several months or more. I later learned he had not paid taxes either; but most importantly, he neglected to pay the house insurance. I smelled gas and called the gas company. There was a major leak that required five men to repair.
Please return next week when we continue with Part 2, which covers APPROACHES that help children communicate successfully with aging parents including an overview of the T.E.M.P.O. Method, BARRIERS such as hearing, vision, and memory loss and HOW to OVERCOME Barriers when communicating with our parents.
Brenda Avadian, MA
Former Caregiver, Founder, & Editor
Dr. Amy D’Aprix is the Executive Director of the DAI Foundation, a nonprofit organization established to meet the needs of caregivers. She is also President of Dr. Amy Inc., a company dedicated to Family Caregiver Wellness by providing access to information and education, services, support with emotional and family issues, and legal and financial support. She holds a PhD and Masters in Social Work, specializing in Gerontology, and earned her CSA (Certified Senior Advisor) – a designation for which she also trains others, as part of their accreditation.
Mary Alexander, Director of Business Relationships with Home Instead Senior Care corporation, actively manages strategic partnerships with companies, associations and organizations whose products, services and programs help franchise owners grow their businesses. She and her team’s focus includes long-term care insurance companies, hospitals, health care organizations, work/life balance opportunities and senior industry leaders.