There are many complicated decisions in the area of elderly care, but none more difficult and emotional than taking away the right to make a decision from an individual who may not be ready to give up that right.
When should an elderly person no longer be able to drive a car? To live independently? To make financial decisions? The simplistic answer is, probably before they want to do so.
Of all the things we look forward to in our youth, it is getting out from under the decision-making of our parents.
Once independent, the need to maintain that state is firmly entrenched for the next five or six decades. It is not something that is easy to give up.
Those with full mental capacities honestly, and perhaps rightfully, believe they can still be independent.
Those with compromised mental capacities are often delusional about their abilities and prepared to fight anyone who will try to tell them differently.
I can certainly understand that.
Unless I am looking in a mirror, I do not feel my age. It is delusional, of course. But in my head, I haven’t aged for the entire length of my adult life. I still think like a 20-year-old, although I am undoubtedly a bit wiser and bit less impulsive.
Still, I don’t feel like I think any differently. If someone were to come to me at this point in time and say, “It’s not safe for you to drive anymore.”
I’d have a pretty good argument to the contrary.
Twenty years from now, that little scenario may be a real-life event for me and if I am thinking like I am now, or think I am thinking like I am now (you can see how quickly this becomes convoluted), I am likely to fight whoever makes that suggestion. Most of us will.
Many doctors do not like such independence confrontations, and while they might suggest to patients that they should not be driving, will often give them the medical clearance they need. With most seniors required only to pass a written test every year to keep driving, someone who is physically or mentally compromised might still be able to take a vehicle out on the road regularly, a threat to themselves and anyone they encounter on their way.
And who wants to tell a parent that they must move from their house when they don’t want to and can’t see why a loving child would even suggest such a ridiculous thing?
Or how do you approach a parent who is losing control of the rational skills necessary to make financial decisions to tell them you plan to get a power of attorney to take that control from them? How do you sleep when your parent is accusing you of stealing from them under such circumstances?
It would be awfully nice if there was a clear line in the sand where, when we crossed it for some reason, our brains clicked into the reality and we turned to our kids and said, “Let’s get the power of attorney signed and I trust you’ll make the decisions that are in all of our best interests. I’ve parked the car and packed my bag, what now?”
A few of us might have the foresight and willingness to do so, but for many, the perception that someone is going to take that long-cherished and hard-fought-for independence away, is a reason to get ready for another battle.
And like all family battles, it will be more painful and stressful, for parents and children alike, than just about anything else we can experience.
• Graham Hookey writes about education, parenting and eldercare and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org