The adult children of older parents often experience stress and turmoil when their parents begin having difficulty with their daily lives. Through her research and general consultation, Dr. Canfield has worked many years with older people and their adult children in identifying solutions to their everyday concerns. If you are an adult child of an older parent and would like to consult with our office, please call us to schedule an appointment. We will be happy to help you. Our number is: 212-297-6115.
Excerpt from Dr. Canfield's Living in Retirement: and Helping Your Parents Enjoy Retirement. Copyright 1994.
How do you figure into the equation of your parents' lives, and how do they figure into yours? If you choose to work with Dr. Canfield, we will try to assess various methods of maintaining a healthy involvement in your parents lives while you sustain a healthy life of your own.
A significant finding in a study of 391 men and women over age 64 was this: Level of care was the most powerful predictor of psychological well-being in the older person. In this study, level of care was divided into three categories: (a) self-sufficient, (b) requiring partial assistance, and (c) requiring full-time assistance. It was profoundly clear that self-sufficiency was related to an improved quality of life. When these older people were better able to handle the basic necessities of life such as paying bills, shopping, and caring for their homes, their psychological well-being was decidedly improved. The more self-sufficient individuals were:
1) less susceptible to psychological distress
2) had greater self-efficacy in problem solving
3) experienced their lives as more satisfying
4) had more positive views of their relationships
5) felt more productive in their daily activities.
These results are fairly logical, in that, we know that a person of any age will most likely feel more "in control" or autonomous, if that person is able to care for his or her own needs. This feeling of self-reliance provides a powerful sense of independence. A strong feeling of self-worth breeds productivity, and there the loop-tape begins again.
You may have a rebuttal such as, "My mother cannot care for herself--she needs help or she may get hurt." Then what is a logical conclusion? Here are some common results:
1) "We'll have to move her in with us."
2) "We'd better take a look at these nursing homes."
3) "Let's rotate her through all the kids--she can stay with each of us two months a piece..."
4) "Sis and I had better take turns living there--I'm sure Tom and the boys will be fine..."
5) "We'll have to sell her home and move her to a place here in town."
What are the problems with these conclusions? First, the parent is not involved in the plan. Second, the adult child may end up disrupting the lives of his or her own family. Third, the adult child may end up unnecessarily disrupting the life of the parent. Finally, the parent's independence is single-handedly being stripped away.
It is not necessary for you, the adult child, to become a martyr on behalf of your parents, nor is it in their best interest. For financial and practical reasons, you may find yourself making compromises to the "ideal" plan, however, be creative and resourceful in seeking solutions. As you are assessing the alternatives, consider the following:
1) What does my parent want to do?
2) What are the medical needs of my parent?
3) What are the physical needs of my parent?
4) What are the emotional needs of my parent?
5) How can I help my parents retain their autonomy?
6) How can my parent best preserve his or her lifestyle and daily routine?
7) How can my parent remain as active as possible - both socially and physically?
8) What is best for my own family and for me?
If your parent has physical or medical needs that he or she is unable to meet, consider hiring scheduled assistance. Such assistance may be found in a friend of your parent, through a local agency or hospital, or with the help of a college student. Other alternatives include groups of older people sharing a home, a residential care home, or a live-in companion. Each of these alternatives require careful exploration, however, depending on the area in which your parent lives, there may be several other options. Most importantly, regardless of your parent's personal status, he or she must be as involved as possible in every step of the decision-making process. There is nothing worse than an adult child walking in and saying, "Mom, we're moving you into The Shady Lane," or, "We've sold your house and you're coming to live with us." Take a moment to reverse the roles. If someone (family or otherwise) told you they had sold your house, you might consider holding them at gunpoint while you call your lawyer. Your parents are resourceful -they might just do the same!