In the poem, Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone, poet W.H. Auden anguishes about the loss of a love one: “My North, my South, my East and West; My working week and my Sunday rest”. Sometimes this loss occurs before death, as a familiar loved person fades in their ability to function as they used to. Auden’s expression of pain about how his loved one could be swept away can serve as a reflection of the feelings of an adult child when their aging parent---their compass in many times past—begins to fail and is no longer capable of independently managing home and activities of daily living.
The loss of a parent’s independence often sets off deep feelings of sadness, betrayal, foreboding or even relief. But no matter the range of feelings, the dynamic between parent and adult child changes. The child must assert and make decisions for the parent that are often difficult for everyone. Roles are often reversed. Dr. Nancy Giles, a therapist in Boston sees a parallel at opposite ends of the age spectrum: “It is rather the reverse of the independence dynamics with a toddler or even a teen. In that context the struggle can be to gain and define self. This adult child/aging parent scenario is about the surrender of one’s self."
The Mayo Clinic suggests seven questions to help evaluate parental ability to maintain independent function:
- Are your aging parents taking care of themselves, such as their physical appearance?
- Are your aging parents experiencing memory loss?
- Are your parents safe in their home?
- Are your aging parents safe on the road?
- Have your aging parents lost weight?
- Are your aging parents in good spirits?
- Are your aging parents able to get around?
For some people the decisions of how to help an aging parent may be clear and agreeable. For others a parent may be independent in some ways, but no longer in others. Resistance and defensiveness may be at high levels.
There are many resources to assist in making the decisions of what modifications of environment may be best for your mother or father. A good starting place for guidance may be a trusted and familiar physician. On line resources are abundant to help sort through questions to ask in choosing a home health service or live-in facility. Many resources are available to help you consider the financial decisions. Here is a sampling:
In our next blog, we will investigate a variety of the resources available to make helpful changes, such as simple, but critical modifications to a parent’s home. If you make the decision that the best solution is to remain in the home, we will explore effective ways to bring care to them.
If you have suggestions on this topic, please enter the conversation and let us hear your ideas and experiences.