Visiting Angels: Fear of losing independence
May 16, 2014
Whether you find yourself within the "sandwich" generation or are an adult child of a senior, the frustration of talking with a senior family member about an issue related to that person needing to relinquish some form of their independence can be daunting.
The conversations and the level of concern vary widely. How does the conversation work when expressing to a parent your concern about their handling (or not handling) their finances and checkbook? What about a concern for their cognitive functions and their ability/inability to live safely by themselves?
Let's look at it this way: We all are aware of the developmental issues that face 2-year-olds (the terrible 2s), and some of us painfully can identify with a teenager's struggle for independence. Yet we rarely hear about the "crisis" that confronts all elders and the struggles they face in their development. And yes, we all continue to develop as we age — being 80 doesn't stop our development.
Personality development books, written by such scholars as Erik Erikson and Jean Piaget, clearly define the crisis that each individual must resolve before moving on to the next stage of development (e.g., teenagers' need for independence versus their need for their parents' protection and nurturing). We understand these stages of development because those who have defined them have lived through those stages and learned firsthand what is happening.
So, what are those crises and how do we understand what our elders are experiencing? How do we develop the best communication style that will allow us to handle our need to protect our elders and to allow them to resolve their own crises?
It is important that we all understand that aging is a lifelong development. It doesn't stop when we retire or when we reach a certain age; it lasts until we die (and then some might argue that such development continues vicariously through the children of the elder).
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In the chapter titled "Closing the Communication Gap with Our Elders" in his book "How to Say It to Seniors," author David Soile describes the crisis faced by the elders of today as the conflict to "maintain control over their lives in the face of almost daily losses, and simultaneously to discover their legacy, or that which will live on after them." This conflict clearly makes for a difficult communication gap for those having to protect our loved ones.
The issue of communication is clearly apparent: The elder can ramble from topic to topic, repeating stories over and over again, etc., while their son or daughter has the need to focus and get results from every word — no wasting time on needless communication. Yet as Soile points out, "We haven't learned to appreciate the tasks on their agenda." Meaning, of course, that their "crisis" dictates that the elder needs to continually work on resolving "maintaining control versus letting go" as a result of the loss of some of their abilities and the legacy they will have left.
When addressing concerns about finances and personal safety, it is important to broach the subjects with sensitivity and compassion. Regardless of age, it can be quite humbling and even embarrassing to have someone speak to a senior about needing assistance in getting control of their money, considering their ability to drive a car or living alone safely. Be very aware that no matter how you candy-coat it, you are indicating that they may be losing a large measure of independence.
By far, it will be more comfortable for everyone if such issues are discussed before your elderly parent or relative needs help. Establish definitive signal events that might indicate they need help (for example, receiving account alerts, late payments, traffic violations) and come up with a plan as to how you will work together if and when that time comes. Talk about possible complications and consequences that could arise for them and their family should a proper plan not be developed.
Involving your senior loved one in the decision-making process may make the task of addressing these issues much easier. Keep the focus on what they can do and make suggestions only for those tasks with which you think they need help. Most important, listen to what they have to say about the issue. Understand, through your use of words, how the elder feels and thinks about their situation in life now, versus when they were your age.
Such conversations can be difficult and emotional for all parties involved. Before you dive in, consider getting guidance from an expert on elder issues.
Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Routt and Moffat counties. Contact him by visiting http://www.visitingangels.com/comtns or calling 970-879-9400.