Suggestions from some of us who have been in this position:
Most of us have not had the experience of needing to rely on someone else to cook, drive, organize mail, do laundry, or other common tasks. Try and put yourself in the position of suddenly realizing you are losing the ability to take care of yourself in the simplest of ways. How might that feel? Instead of taking away control by saying, “Mom, you can’t cook anymore — this is the third time you’ve left the stove on!” Think of ways to ask questions, listen closely to the answers, and understand that you may not solve the problem in just one conversation. Aging people have a lot at stake emotionally related to maintaining independence.
De-Stigmatize The Need for Care
Statistically, 7 out of 10 seniors will need some sort of assistance in their later years. How about acknowledging how amazing it is that your loved one has done so well for so long on her own? Say something like “Most of my friend’s parents are already having someone come in to help with a few things and they are younger than you are! You have done so well on your own but a bit of help might ease the pressure for getting so many things done in a day”. Proceed with caution: Don’t underestimate your elder’s awareness of what you are trying to do. Do everything you can to be respectful of their dignity. No adult wants to be spoken to as if they were a child.
Discuss the Positive Side of Getting Care
Depending on the situation, getting some assistance at home may free up some time for recreational activities — visiting a friend or relative, joining in on an outing with others, engaging in a hobby, reading a book, or going to a senior center.
Give a Reality Check
If your loved one has had some falls, forgotten medication, left the front door unlocked, or the oven on, then a gentle but firm conversation about what this could mean may be in order. A caregiver for a few hours a day could help prevent a serious incident. If Mom’s resistance seems impenetrable, you might want to point out that having some assistance could actually help her to remain at home a lot longer. If an accident occurs, the decision may have to be made by other family members.
Play the “Do It For Me” Card
Depending on the personalities involved and your relationship, explain how the worry for your parent’s safety impacts you. Letting Mom know that you are so concerned about her that it is affecting your ability to sleep, or do your job, or keep up with your life’s demands, might help her soften toward the idea of getting help. And then she can feel as if she is doing it for you, as much as doing it for her own benefit.
Make a Deal
Start small. Perhaps Mom would agree to a “housekeeper” a few times a week to help with groceries and light cleaning. If you work to find the right person with a compatible disposition, your loved one might discover she enjoys this person’s company and wouldn’t find it so difficult to accept a little more help. Suggest once or twice a week to start and if things work well, gradually increase the hours. A trial is a lot easier to swallow than an agreement to have a caregiver on a daily basis.
Keep Your Sense of Humor and Patience
Although this is a serious situation, keeping the conversation as light as possible, sprinkled with a humorous anecdote (make it up if you have to) will keep the tone light and unthreatening. No parent wants to feel like they are being parented, although many of us have had the singularly uncomfortable experience of having the tables turned as our parents age. If it is a spouse, again, call on your humor, love, and the “do it for me” card. You might be surprised at how well that combination can yield results. And always, always approach this with patience. People don’t get old overnight – accepting these changes will not be a quick process. Lower your expectations for how quickly you want or think you need this to resolve.
Bring in a Professional
Sometimes, the dynamic between you and your parent is such that you simply cannot bring this conversation to a good conclusion. Another option is to reach out to a professional in the senior care industry who might be able to facilitate a more productive discussion.
By: Marcy Baskin, Managing Director Senior Care Authority