» I really think my brother needs to move. He isn’t taking care of his house and he never leaves anymore. I tell him my thoughts on this but he is defiant and won’t have any of it. What do I do? I feel powerless. »
In the question above insert any of the following: mother, father, parents, sister, grandmother, aunt…the list goes on and I hear these comments and this question almost daily.
Once a person is of age and a ‘mature responsible adult’, at no point can anyone control their choices for them. Do they make the same choices we would? Sometimes the answer is no and at times it is never. Every life is completely different with a different journey dotted with a variety of challenges along the way. What we see from the outside looking in is usually quite different from the way the person is living their life the only way they know how.
Adding in a combination of limited mobility, what might seem like loneliness, increasing disorder in the home and an elderly person becoming more and more frail exponentially increases the sense of urgency. What should one do and how can they do it??? There is no straight or direct answer, but here are some questions that might help. Even when there is memory loss, the process to help or assist someone to move is not easy nor can it be ‘forced’. (helping someone relocate when there is memory loss is another blog post all in itself)
Here is a list of questions in no particular order to help you start a conversation or to help along one that started years ago. Some are for you to answer and others are for the person you are concerned about to answer:
Questions to ask yourself:
Over the years, what are some of the major changes you have noticed in your loved one? : Some examples might be health issues, memory, physical limitations, becoming withdrawn, weight loss, hygiene issues…
What are your major concerns?: The heightened risk of a potential accident/fall, isolation, missed doctor’s appointments, no longer managing their affairs, wanting to help but at a loss of knowing how, too far to help, no time to assist, how to talk about this…
What are some of the emotions you are feeling? Some examples are the following but certainly not limited to: sadness, fear, anger, detachment, love, afraid of losing, being judged or judging, overwhelmed…
Life can change at the drop of a hat. Even if it may hurt them, share with your loved ones how you feel. There is a lot of growth that happens at that moment. Always respect them and try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes.
Questions to ask them:
What are some challenges you face on a daily basis? Examples might be: preparing meals, bathing, dressing, managing medication, grooming, laundry/housekeeping, seeing or calling friends…. Let them answer . Make sure to listen to what they have to say and realize that sometimes even the smallest, most mundane tasks can be daunting.
Do you think there is anything we can do about it? (Include yourself in finding solutions, this is not about pointing the finger). For example: meals on wheels, help for bathing or adapting the bathroom, buying different clothes that are easier to put on, speaking with the pharmacist, getting a haircut or letting your beard grow, hiring someone or a service for housekeeping, looking into day centers/social events or an easier to dial phone…
Did you want to look into that or did you want me to research it? Whoever does the research make sure to follow-up. If after a certain period the task does not get done on their end, suggest that you can look into it on your end too. This is a team effort. Never overlook their fears and emotions. This is a slooooooow process and growth happens slooooowly as well. Be patient.
Brainstorm together, go crazy, talk about staying and adapting the house, purchasing or renting adapted equipment, and/or moving. Examples for adapting the house: installing an elevator, a chair lift, an adapted bath, moving the laundry machines, buying and installing adapted equipment (for the bathroom, specialized phones/door bells, easier to open faucets, different cutlery…) or having someone live-in , or hiring people who can help with different tasks. Examples for moving to a condo, to an apartment, to a residence, or moving in with you… Trust me, it all exists. Explore as much as you can. It does not cost anything at this point.
Everyone has their own individual set of needs but there is always someone else out there with needs similar to ours. This in turn creates a variety of available solutions. Beautiful options and solutions. It is not about forcing, it is about exploring. It is then up to the person in need to decide. The power is theirs.
To conclude, here is a summary of a recent phone call I had with a client. The children are in different parts of North America and none are closer than a 5 hour drive to their parents.
« They should come live with me more than my brother. »
My question was « Why? ».
« It will be easier for me if there is an emergency. », said the adult child.
« This is not about you. This is about your parents choices, their life, their friends, their social network. », I said.
« Yeah but what if something happens to them and I have to rush out to help them? »
My response was, « In my eyes your parents decide that for themselves, you are powerless other then talking through different options with them. They know they are aging, that their health is failing them, that they see their friends at bridge weekly, that they are close to their doctors, that driving is harder, that meals are harder to prepare, that they are only taking sponge baths because the bath is too hard and scary to mange, and the stairs -forget it. They live it every day. They are choosing their indecision. If they stopped planning, are you to be held responsible? »
Open, honest, raw conversations is the only power we have. We are the only ones that have the power in our lives to want to live the best life ever all the way to the last day. Our choices belong to us.*
* There is a lot of bad out there, not everyone has the strength or courage to take a stand for themselves nor feel they are deserving enough, at any and every age. Every relationship comes with its challenges. Life is filled with hard knocks that are hard to come back from at times. I completely understand that, I have been there and am still there sometimes. Though I truly believe that every day and at every stage in life it is in all of us to build ourselves back up, to plan, to move forwards and allow ourselves to have the best we can have, and to remain in the driver’s seat in our lives. This is not a dress rehearsal and it is important to live the best we can every day.