Question: Even though my parents insist they don’t need my help, I can see that they are struggling to manage their daily bills, paperwork, and medications. They insist that they are perfectly capable of handling their finances and their pills and don’t see a need for my assistance. How do I help them get their affairs in order without offending them or making it seem as if I am trying to take over and run their lives?
Answer: The truth is that acknowledging that you need help with the business of life is really, really hard for most seniors. If they come to the point where they need your help, they are confronted with their own limitations. And those limitations won’t “get better” in most cases. Deep down, your parents know that this is the beginning of the end of their independence as they have come to know it.
Here are some tips on how to take charge without taking over.
- If possible, do the tasks alongside your mom and dad rather than doing it for them. While this approach might take longer than doing it yourself, you allow them to retain some self-esteem by letting them take the lead.
- Let your parents tell you what aspects of a particular activity they needs your help with, and if possible, try to limit your assistance to just those things, at least for now. Of course, if your mom and dad don’t have a realistic picture of what they can do for themselves, you will need to gently find a way to help them see your perspective.
- Be respectful, and ask permission before you just jump in. For example, when you take your parents to a doctor’s appointment, don’t just assume that they want you to come into the examining room with them. Instead, ask them if they’d like you to be there the whole time, or if perhaps you can just be called in toward the end of the visit to make sure that YOUR questions are answered.
- Set up invisible safety nets. For example, if you come every Sunday and set up your mom’s medications in a weekly medication management system, you can have some expectation that she will take the correct medications at the right time. But it wouldn’t hurt to also have a way of checking that once or twice during the week. This might take the form of a medication management visit by a home care company or trusted friend or relative or perhaps daily medication reminder phone calls from you.
- Make a distinction between safety and everything else. When your mom or dad’s safety is on the line, you might just have to take charge by taking over. On the other hand, if you’d just prefer that something be done a certain way or at a certain time, there might be an opportunity to loosen the grip a bit.
Sometimes, no matter how you approach the situation, you’ll find yourself in a confrontation with your mom or dad over how to best care for them. At these times, you and your parent might find it helpful to talk with an objective third party such as a family transition coach who can shed new light on the situation. Your job as your parent’s caregiver is to keep them safe, comfortable, and happy. As long as you keep that in perspective you should have no trouble taking charge without taking over.
Sheri Samotin, President
LifeBridge Solutions, LLC
Naples, Florida 34108