Talking to Your Folks | Vital Link
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Talking to Your Folks

Understanding and diplomacy when suggesting lifestyle changes can be vital … especially regarding Medical Alert Devices.

Most often, children of aging parents are not only good “kids” they are in general very competent people. But a strong-willed mom or dad may not care one bit. Remember, they are still the parents.

Often children will make a decree … Mom, you need a medic alert” … and very often there will be push back. Often children will insist on looking over Mom or Dad’s finances… and very often there will be push back.

The nation's 77 million baby boomers are not the first adults to care for their aging parents. But they are the first generation to care for parents who are living longer but with more chronic medical conditions -- and often far from their grown children.

More than 43 million Americans provide care for someone older than 50 who is aging or disabled, including 15 million who care for someone with Alzheimer's disease or dementia. Nearly 1 in 10 women ages 45 to 56 is a member of the "sandwich generation," taking care of an aging parent and her own children at the same time, according to a 2006 report from the Department of Labor.

For each of these grown children, there are moments when an aging loved one's senior safety seems to depend on that caregiver's ability to coax, cajole, persuade or coerce Mom or Dad to make changes in the interest of his or her health and safety -- changes that almost uniformly prompt resistance.

The caregiver's aim may vary -- to persuade a parent to turn over the financial reins, see a doctor, accept help with cooking or bathing, get a medical alert button or give up those potent symbols of adult independence, the car keys. How persuasive he or she is may well determine whether car accidents, hip fractures, getting help at the time of an emergency, house fires and destitution will be averted.

Yet there is no accepted script for how this crucial conversation should go.

“In a generation or two it will seem normal and we should have it figured out," says Elizabeth Dugan, a professor of gerontology at the University of Massachusetts in Boston and an expert on aging and driving performance. "But for now, it is challenging, rewarding, exhausting and more."

Different agendas

Children of aging parents often find this process challenging.  Our parent’s psychological needs are certainly different from our own. Thus the difference in agendas.

Understanding our folk’s agendas is the key. The agenda of most aging parents at the threshold of needing their children's' help tends to be twofold. First, is the powerful need to maintain control over their lives at a time when age and illness are making that increasingly complex. Second, they seem to nurture a deep desire to see and appreciate that their lives had meant something.

When we acknowledge these needs, it becomes natural to back off a bit. Think of it this way … imagine your kids … telling you how to manage your finances, etc. When we acknowledge these needs, we will soften up a bit … it will be easier for us to respect their dignity. Acknowledging that there are no easy ways to reconcile their safety needs and their desire to stay in their own homes … we are compelled to ask, “What will work for you”. Sometimes a medical alert device is the compromise that works for all parties.

If we don’t recognize the powerful forces driving our loved ones, our efforts to look after them, may very well be dismissed.

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