Aging loved ones on their own 'roller coaster of emotions'
When my father had his first of three strokes, a defining moment in how he was cared for is forever etched in my memory.
We were having a family dinner and, wanting to be helpful, I took the liberty to cut Dad's meat in small pieces so that he wouldn't have to struggle with one hand.
Furious, he said, "Parents cut up their food for children, not the other way around. Don't do that again!"
My feelings were hurt and I walked out of the room muttering, "I was only trying to help Dad."
A half hour later, Dad opened the door to the porch waving his white handkerchief. Under his arm, was a bag of peanut M & Ms – my favourite. He smiled and said, "Truce?"
Dipping into the bag of chocolate, Dad spoke about the paradox of accepting help. "On one hand, I feel this immense sense of pride and love that my daughter is so caring and willing to help. And then I feel this incredible wave of anger and resentment towards you for having to help me."
As Dad struggled to cope with staggering losses — multiple strokes, an inability to work as a lawyer, loss in physical strength and energy, he also became acutely aware of the "burden" he was placing on his family.
Doing his best from slipping off the rope, he tied a knot and hung on to what he did have — independence and control.
It's important to remember that aging parents receiving care are experiencing their own roller coaster of emotions — knowing that they need help but resisting for fear of losing control and independence, feelings of uselessness and being a burden on family, and anger and resentment regarding the aging process.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind when providing care to an aging loved one, or when making difficult decisions, using the acronym LOVE:
L – Listen and Only Listen.
By that I mean, turn off your inner voice and do not pass judgment about what they say. As difficult as it may be, just listen. This is often a big step in gaining their confidence so they may tell you more.
O – Omit the Advice.
There is one thing most experts agree on — imposing your way of thinking or giving unsolicited advice will yield undesirable results. In not so diplomatic terms, you'll tick off your loved ones and they'll probably dig their heels in further. Although we don't mean to, when offering advice we inadvertently hold our loved ones unable or incompetent to make decisions. We take away their control and independence.
V – Validate and Then Ask Questions.
Rephrase and repeat what you hear so that they know you heard them. This then allows you to ask questions. You may not agree with what they are saying, or perhaps you feel they are making the wrong decision.
Asking questions and asking for details allows everyone to think through the response. For instance, you might wish to ask questions such as:
• "What are the advantages and disadvantages of using a home meal program versus having the children cook?"
• "If you don't sell the house, will there be any possible long term effects?"
• "Mom, if you move to Toronto, how would that affect the family?"
This approach allows your loved one to be directing their care and decisions in an open and non-judgmental manner.
E – Empathize.
Put yourself in their shoes and think to yourself, "If I were Dad and the effects of the stroke made reading difficult, how would I feel?" Your goal is to understand how they are feeling and being able to support them by saying things like, "You must feel so frustrated by your stroke. I know how much you love to read Dad."
In some cases, aging loved ones can put themselves and/or others at risk by refusing care and help. Then what? Come back in two weeks to read more!
Wendy Johnstone is a gerontologist and is the founder of Keystone Eldercare Solutions. Her column runs in the Comox Valley Record every second Friday.