Parenting Your Aging Parents

Parenting Your Aging Parents – elderly drivers, home care issues

Francine Moskowitz

Dear Francine and Robert:

My aging father, 86, ran his car into a tree last week. He wasn’t badly hurt.

My brother, who lives near him, wasn’t surprised, though. He tells us Dad goes through periodic “spells” where he is confused and has trouble communicating for an hour or so. This may have been the reason Dad drove straight where the road curved.

He has been thoroughly examined since then, of course, but his doctor can’t find anything wrong with him.

Nevertheless, I’d like him to stop driving. But Dad insists he needs a car for shopping and other chores. Should I let this go, or dig in my heels?

Signed, Worried About His Wheels

Dear Worried About His Wheels:

Your father may have a medical condition which renders him completely unfit for driving. Please get this diagnosed as soon as possible, so he and the family can determine what to do about it. If his current doctor can’t find anything wrong, try a smarter doctor, or a more thorough one.

What you are seeing may be TIAs (transient ischemic attacks), a kind of ministroke. You can learn more about them from this web site: http://www.ninds.nih.gov/health_and_medical/disorders/tia_doc.htm

As we see it, you really have only two ways to go:

1) If you believe your father is a danger to himself or others, get him out from behind the wheel at once, even if you must hide his keys, sell his car, cancel his insurance, or report him to your state’s department of motor vehicles.

2) If you prefer that your father not drive but aren’t willing to enforce this prohibition, try persuading him. Don’t expect this to be easy, though. No sensible person gives up the convenience of driving unless they feel there’s a real danger to themselves or others.

All you can do is try your hardest to make this case to your father.

Because it may take some time to win his agreement, you should start immediately – and keep on trying until you succeed.

It’s helpful to get the rest of the family on your side, too. You’ll probably find you have more allies than you realize.

Try making the transition easier for him by arranging alternative transport: a car and driver, a reliable system of rides from family and friends, a slush fund to pay for cabs, community- sponsored senior transport, and so forth.

As you make your stand against his continued driving, you may be criticized for nagging, or being a jerk, or trying to control his life, or other stuff. Don’t let it get to you; getting him off the road is too important.

* * *

Dear Francine and Robert:

Mom has been an emotional wreck for the past two weeks. She hasn’t reacted well to the sale of her house or her move in here with my husband, my children, and me.

You see, her old house is right across the street from ours, so she can watch the new people living there. Apparently, she feels compelled to run over there ten times a day and tell them to water the lawn, close the shades, bring in the trash cans, and so forth.

When she’s not running across the street, she’s trying to telephone my sisters and beg them to let her back in her house.

I’m tired of being the traffic cop who prevents her from making a nuisance and a fool of herself, particularly since my sisters believe I’m exaggerating her problems.

Is there some easier way I can keep her outspoken tendencies in check?

Signed, Never Agreed To Police Work

Dear Never Agreed To Police Work:

It’s common for mentally or emotionally frail elders to have a very difficult time accepting tangible, all-encompassing changes like selling their home and moving in with one of their grown children.

These major transitions create stress that can bring on, or significantly add to their confusion, agitation, and depression.

Understand that no matter how many times you remind her of what has changed, it’s entirely possible she will be surprised and distraught all over again the next time she sees someone else living in her old home, and realizes she’s living in yours.

Dealing with that kind of repetitive agitation and dismay can be hard to take. It can be even tougher to bear when you’re working so hard to help maintain her quality of life.

We suggest you continue keeping your mother from crossing the street, but stop trying to restrain her from calling your sisters. Why wear yourself out shielding them from your mother’s dementia? During their short visits, your sisters probably haven’t noticed how far into her own world your mother has retreated. That’s one big reason they haven’t been very attentive to your pleas for help in taking care of your mother.

As of now, allow them to come face to face with the truth.

Let them receive her phone calls and listen to her confused concerns. Let them deal with her explosive emotions when they try to set her straight. After several repetitions of these experiences, your sisters will come around to your way of thinking.

By letting them experience first hand your mother’s current state of confusion, agitation, and depression, you are giving your sisters important opportunities to recognize the need for your caregiving work, to join with you in the ongoing process, and to reap the same satisfactions that you have been feeling all these years.

* * *

(c) Copyright 2003 by Francine and Robert Moskowitz

Francine and Robert Moskowitz are the authors of “Parenting Your Aging Parents, How To Protect Their Quality of Life — And Yours!” This 300 page hardcover book has been widely acclaimed as the classic work in the field since 1991. It is available at bookstores, or directly from Key Publications. The toll-free order line is 800-735-0015. The Web site is: http://www.knowledgetree.com/key.html. The cost is $21.95 plus $3.95 shipping and handling. If you wish, you can ask Francine and Robert Moskowitz your own question for this column by emailing them at: KeyPubs@knowledgetree.com.

COPYRIGHT 2003 Key Publications

COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group