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Caring Conversations With Our Older Parents The SeniorScape®

Late the other night I turned on the TV to watch one of my favorite programs. Instead of seeing the program I was hoping for, it was tuned to a channel with a past episode of a program I had never seen, “Last ManStanding”. The episode aired in March 2019. The dialogue captured my attention and kept me from changing the channel. There were five men aging in range from 20 to 60 men sitting at a poker table. As the scene opens, one of the men announces that he had to take away his mother’s car keys because she hit the neighbor’s mailbox. Another player quickly adds that anyone can hit a mailbox. However, in this case, the mailbox was attached to the house. While it the audience laughter makes it seem like it’s a humorous moment, the conversation quickly turns to the seriousness and delicateness of having a conversation with your parents about their changing ability and what it represents to their independence. The oldest man at the table tells the other players what it feels like to begin losing your independence “is the greatest fear of aging”. It struck me that over the years Hollywood and TV have had their finger on the pulse of the important issues that comes with an increasing older population and the challenging position of the sandwich generation, those having family and work responsibilities coupled with the increasing care needs of their older parents. Almost one year ago I wrote a blog entitled: Taking Away the Car Keys, an Uncomfortable Conversation with Older Parents which was based on a rerun episode of Blue Bloods which aired in November 2012. In that episode, the commissioner played by Tom Selleck, is in a similar situation with his father. The situation becomes so contentious that the fractured relationship between father and son plays out around the Sunday family dinner table. These episodes depict situations that many adult children experience. Statistics reported from a national poll conducted by Visiting Angels, indicate that 79% of adult children say that “telling their parents they’re taking away the car keys because Mom or Dad is no longer fit to drive” is one of the most uncomfortable situations to have. Even more alarming is the danger represented by the fact that 25% of adult children report that despite obvious safety issues, they would totally avoid having a conversation with their parents. This represents an even risk to older adults and to society in general. Other statistics from this poll indicate that 61% of adult children believe their parents will be depressed if they can’t drive, 45% say it will damage their relationship with their parents and 42% reported that they had concerns that they would then be responsible for driving their parents where they had to go. The changing relationship with your parents is new, and sometimes uncomfortable. Parents were your caretakers, decision makers, source of comfort and support. These role reversals are difficult for all concerned. Therefore, it’s important to remember that: Your parents ARE people that you:

  • Never had to make decisions for

  • Never had to ask about their personal life

  • Never had to suggest that they can no longer function at home

  • Never had to assume responsibility for

Therefore, it’s important that caregivers:

  • Set limits with communication,

  • Expect only what is possible and feasible,

  • Understand the reality of role reversal for them and for their parents,

  • To engage siblings, relatives, and other social support persons/agencies who can help.

MOST IMPORTANTLY, it is that you see your parent as an Adult who has lived a long and full life. If you have not had a chance or taken the opportunity to have these conversations, it’s highly suggested that you do. This allows you to Plan by Choice, because you can’t plan when in a crisis. Planning by Choice, ahead of when these situations occur, place you in a far better position for an amicable this because it gives you ample opportunity to have these difficult conversations over time. Trauma and injury from minor traffic incidents are well documented and of course, crashes are often fatal. A 2015 report by the Institute of Insurance Information indicated that 20% of all fatal crashes involved a person 65 years or above. The operative phrase for me in this statement is “telling their parents” and therein is the root of the problem. This is a gradual conversation that adult children should begin to have long before the actual problematic situation. It’s also important to remember that you are not alone, and caregiving affects your life on many different levels. More than 6 in 10 of these working caregivers state their caregiving affects their work.

  • 57% report having to go to work late, leave early, or take time off for caregiving duties.

  • 17% have to take a leave of absence.

  • 10% have to go from working full time, to working part time.

In addition:

  • 80% of caregivers are taking care of an adult or aging person with acute or chronic illness

  • 16% of caregivers are caring for an adult with a long term disability

  • 15.7 million adult family caregivers care for someone who has Alzheimer's disease or other dementia. (2015 Alzheimer's Disease Facts and Figures)

  • Approximately 44 million caregivers provided unpaid care to an adult or child in 2015

  • 56% of caregivers work full time

  • 16% work up to 30 hours per week

  • 25% work part time – 20 hours or less

  • 60% of caregivers are women; 40% men

Starting the Conversation: At the earliest stages, begin a casual conversation about the quality of his/her driving and determine if they themselves are losing confidence in their skills or if there are certain situations on the road which make them feel uncomfortable. This may occur over a period of time rather than a one-and-done situation. Conversations should be non-accusatory, honest communication between adults and rather than between a child and a parent. One in which words like “we’re concerned” or “we love you” or “we have a situation that we’d like to discuss to resolve for the health and well-being of you and anyone else.” No-doubt a parent hearing their adult child “telling” them what they should or should not, can or cannot, be doing would be a sore point and in most cases, the beginnings of driving a wedge in the relationship. It's important to understand this is an emotional time for your parent or loved one. For the adult parent, it may even be reminiscent of times when he/she granted or revoked your driving privileges. There may be other losses he/she may be experiencing that are affecting his/her self-confidence. Try to be empathetic and think about how you would feel if someone wanted to take away your car keys. Would it not seem like taking away your independence and autonomy? Don’t be alarmed if you experience a backlash or verbal retaliation. Understand the root cause and try not to take it personally. Assure your parent or loved one that there are alternatives so that they will not lose their independence. Nowadays Uber or Lyft offer solutions for older adults so they can continue to run errands, attend social outings or get to appointments. There are also senior transportation services that may available. It may be helpful to bring in an objective third party to help mediate the situation. You may want to consider calling upon a family friend, trusted advisor, doctor, or clergy person. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there are 9 signs which indicate it’s time to start the conversation about driving ability. Here is a list of questions that indicate it’s time to begin the conversation along with suggestions on how to initiate the conversation. It’s important to remember to wait for responses and judge how you proceed at any point in time based on the response you receive. Signs of Concern and Conversation Starter Suggestions

  1. Is your loved one is getting lost on familiar routes? Suggestion: I’m worried about you getting lost when driving. Looks like you might have gotten distracted and confused. Tell me what happened. We can discuss some safer ways to get around without you getting behind the wheel.

  2. Has your loved one had a near-miss or a recent crash? A Near-miss could involve hitting the curb or drifting between lanes. Suggestion: I’m so glad no one was hurt. I don’t want to think about the possibility of you or anyone else getting hurt if there is an accident. Let’s talk about safer ways to travel.

  3. Are there new and unexplained dents and scratches in the car the senior drives? Suggestion: I noticed some new dents/scratches on your car. Tell me what happened. Let’s explore some safer ways of running errands without you having to drive.

  4. Has your loved one received a for a driving violation? Suggestion: I’m sorry you got a ticket. We haven’t had a conversation about your driving recently. There may be a better way for you to get around so you don’t get a ticket.

  5. Do you see a worsening in your loved one's chronic health condition or cognitive issue?Suggestion: Let’s look into getting your health checked with the doctor. Depending on what he/she finds it may the time to explore other ways for you to get around.

If you need assistance having a conversation with your loved one, want to know additional areas of concern, or need help developing your Plan by choice Family Care Plan, feel free to email me at:

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