Daughters want aging dad to hire help
Published 3:44 pm, Monday, February 25, 2013
Q: I have been really frustrated trying to help my dad. He is a very smart 92-year-old control freak. Until very recently, he has been shockingly independent. He lives alone -- my mom died over 10 years ago -- but he never asks for help. He was still driving until he had two back-to-back fender-benders last month. We were very relieved when he decided to give up his car after that. He cooks and cleans (at least he says he does) and manages his money and his medications.
It was because of a medication mix-up we started to worry more. All of sudden, my dad's blood pressure got really high and his doctor even had him at the hospital overnight. My dad then confessed that he sometimes forgets to take his pills. The doctor was very concerned because of the stroke risk. In the past, any attempt to introduce help was met with resistance. Now, my dad wants my sister and me to do most of the helping. We both love him very much, but what he needs is a maid and someone to remind him about his medications and maybe a driver. We both have our own lives and will probably not be able to visit him daily. When we do, we want to enjoy it not just focus on the work that needs to be done. He can afford the help but he does not want to spend money. We would like to deal with this situation without an argument. We also do not want for my dad to think we do not care about him. Is there any way out of this?
A: The very fact that Christine is reaching out to me speaks volumes. I have no doubt whatsoever that both Christine and her sister love their dad very much. I also know that they come from a place of concern and that they want to protect him. I think, together, we can try to remedy this situation.
We talk often about how the need to stay in control of one's life is one of the strongest instincts we have. It gives us a sense of peace and fulfillment. All of us -- not just our aging parents -- will often do very strange and sometimes not very smart things to be reassured of our control of our life and daily routines.
Families often ask me if the fact that an aging parent needs more help means that they are "going senile." I really do not like this term and I do not use it. Not everyone who gets occasionally forgetful has a memory disease or dementia. Dementia is common when we get older but it is not normal part of aging. Some forgetfulness does happen and learning new things takes longer and can be frustrating.
Even the healthiest aging individuals may need help. Problems with vision, hearing and arthritis may make daily routines challenging. Occasional forgetfulness may make taking medications a chore, especially if there are many of them and if they need to be taken more than once daily.
Aging individuals constantly struggle with the strong desire to stay independent and to feel useful. Research clearly shows that people who are surrounded by family and friends tend to live longer. From that standpoint, Christine's and her sister's desire to interact as much as possible with her dad socially is very commendable.
Christine has two problems. First, she needs to try to convince her dad to accept help at home. Second, she needs to convey to him in a loving way that the best way for their family is to hire that help.
The first problem should be approached through Christine's dad's need for independence. If help is not introduced now, a very serious event can happen. Stroke, which is the scariest consequence of untreated high blood pressure, is one event we really want to avoid. It often leaves its victim severely incapacitated. Most people will accept some help to avoid the risk of ending up completely helpless due to an illness.
My suggestion would be starting with the most crucial things, such as assistance with driving and medications. Medications will need to be dealt with daily. Driving means independence, so driving help needs to be very reliable. Once these things are discussed, small compromises will have to be made about the cleaning lady and how often food needs to be cooked. Both Christine and her dad will end up feeling only partially satisfied, which is the best sign of effective negotiations.
The second issue -- that of hiring help instead of using your family -- will require patience, honesty and time. My suggestion is to just say it how it is. Both Christine and her sister want to be daughters first, then the maids. They want to spend quality time with their father. This time needs to be carved out of their lives and their families' needs as well. By completely focusing on the interaction, and not on the chores, one can truly feel connected. One does not want to be constantly tired and stressed in the presence of parents or other loved ones. If one has the financial means to have someone else take the most of the burden, there is no shame in doing so.
It is a true privilege to benefit from the wisdom of someone who has been around for a while. I hope that the girls can enjoy quality time with their father and learn from him. He sounds like a person who will allow them to help him and who will enjoy them being around.