Last night I met a woman who was in town to help her daughter with her grandchildren.
After listening to her story, it affirmed that people don’t readily share the challenges
they are having unless for some reason it comes up in conversation. It happens much
more often than anyone realizes. I know for myself, almost every other person I speak
with has experience with this situation.
The conversation went from one topic to another until she asked me what I
do. Depending on the situation I identify myself as a gerontological
speech/language pathologist and dementia care specialist. After all, it's the work I did
as a professional for the majority of my adult professional life.
I explained that I worked over 40,000 hours working with thousands of
patients/residents and their families in the long-term care arena.
At that point, she began to tell me about her mother-in-law, now in her
80’s, living in her own home with her husband but requiring full time care.
She explained that funds are running low and the decisions that must be made
are problematic and not without challenges.
She went on to explain.
Her mother-in law has repeatedly fires caregivers from the home care agency.
There have been so many it’s almost too difficult to count. In addition, while her
mother-in-law insists that she doesn’t need help, she does tell everyone that she
forgets things from time to time. She explained how frustrating it is that you tell
her something and she swears later she’s never been told whatever it is.
In addition, her father-in-law is in much better health and requires less care than
They feel they have to make a decision to “put” her in an assisted living but her
mother-in-law insists that she is not leaving her house. In addition, she identifies
all assisted living facilities as nursing homes. Two people in their family circle
were in two horrid places where both died. I explained that using the word
"put" is in and of itself creates a derogatory way of thinking about older adults;
it removes their autonomy. I suggested using the words 'moving' or 'transitioning'
Not only is it more dignified and respectful, but, changing our languageing
can hopefully begin to permeate our thinking about the transitions
people need to make as they advance in years. That it is merely represents another in
the long line of transitions we make throughout our lives.
As I listened, I started to ask her a few questions. Has her mother-in-law ever been
diagnosed with dementia? The answer was no.
She told me she and her husband and visited Assisted Livings and even an
Independent Living a few years prior. They almost had her mother-in-law
convinced she should move. But, when she said it would be a nice place to
live for the winter and that she would return to her house for the summer
They decided not to proceed. A decision they now regret.
The family is at a breaking point. Knowing funds are running low and continued
care is needed. But how to proceed?
I asked if when they went to see these Assisted Livings if her mother-in-law
went along. Response: No
Not an uncommon situation. Adult children often scout out potential living
environments for their parents but don’t have them involved in the process.
I suggested they bring “mom” along next time they go to a few places. Since she
calls all these living environments “nursing homes” it may conjure up an
Image far different than what they are in reality. If she visited one or two, she
may find herself feeling very different.
Then there is the conversation. She admitted that the repeated firing of caregivers is a
source of tension, frustration and even exasperation. Her mother-in-law insists
that she doesn’t need help or want someone underfoot in her own home.
Not an uncommon complaint.
I suggested her mother may likely be feeling and seeing her autonomy slip away,
is frightened but doesn’t know how to, or is reluctant, to verbalize it. In addition,
since she proclaims that she forgets things, she is likely also having feelings about
I suggested they ask her mother-in-law why she feels she has to tell everyone
She forgets things and how she feels about that?
Does she feel forgetting contributes to her being able to take care of herself or
her husband in any way.
What is she still able to do for herself, her husband and her household?
Is there anything that she IS having difficulty with?
What does the caregiver do for her that she is no longer able to do?
Does she find any of it helpful?
Has she ever been to an assisted living community?
Does she know they are very different and nothing like nursing homes?
I suggested they see if they know anyone who moved to an assisted
living and is happy living there. If so, they may consider a visit.
These are often difficulty and challenging conversations, especially where they are
already pent-up feelings and attitudes about the situation from all parties
As we said goodbye, she said she never thought of approaching the situation in some of
the ways I suggested and the family had not given much thought to the feelings her
mother-in-law might be having that were behind her actions. They were all consumed
with the care and financial issues, the potential decisions and challenges.
But, as with my own daughter having challenges with conversations with my ex-
husband.who is showing signs of cognitive decline and not willing to admit it, it may be
difficult to change course when the road is already paved with anger,
resentment, and frustration.
I suggested she email me or contact me if she needs
any assistance. From experience I know she likely will need help. I certainly hope
she does reach out to me or,, if not me, reach out to some third party to help negotiate
this difficult and unfamiliar path for all parties involved.
The older parent who sees their decline in ability. The adult child who now
feels they have to “parent” their parent, the one person who cared for them.
This creates more problems in the relationship dynamic.
The older parent who sees their adult child speaking to them, treating them and
making decisions for them as if they are incapable, or as they did for their adult
child when they cared for them as children, can make them feel enfeebled.
It made me think of all who will be reading this blog.
How many of you have similar situations or know of someone who
If so, don't hesitate to seek assistance. It could make an
important difference in your familial relationships.
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Follow Phyllis Ayman on the podcast: SeniorsSTRAIGHTTalk at: https://www.voiceamerica.com/show/3911/seniors-straight-talk