Haims column: Be considerate when expressing concerns about loved ones
Last week I addressed the subject of visiting aging family members for the holidays and signs to look for indicating that a need for assistance may exist. Here is the follow up to that article.
I live in Eagle. Last week my son had a hockey game in Vail, and my wife asked me to drive because she was concerned about the snow on the highway. So, I drove. Halfway to Vail I realized I was set up for failure.
I was not even to the bottom of the Eagle onramp to I-70 before my wife screamed out, “Judd — watch out!” A semi-truck in the fast lane had passed me at blaring speed and startled her. I looked over to her and thought to myself, “I’m not even on the highway yet, what do you want me to do about that”? When she said, “I want you to be careful,” I realized I said that out loud. Oops.
Nobody wants to be criticized and badgered. Sometimes however, we need to find a way to make others understand harm may be imminent, and in the moment, we don’t always convey our concern and love in the best manner.
Put yourself in your parents’ position
Adult children will most likely not be able to understand nor appreciate the challenges our aging parents face until we ourselves are in their position.
While here in the mountains it may not be uncommon to see people in their 70s and 80s skiing 30-50 days a year, biking and jogging, they are not the norm. Many seniors find walking and navigating stairs challenging. Winter driving is also a challenge for many.
Take a minute to think about the many things you may take for granted while you are young and spry. With winter upon us, many of our elders may be apprehensive driving in the snow and ice, especially after dark. Some may choose to forego marketing and/or medical appointments in inclement weather. Consider how mobility can inhibit one’s life. When you understand the challenges of aging and the potential loss of independence, you will be better prepared to have a conversation with your loved ones.
I read the following in The Atlantic and thought this was an excellent point to understand: “As parents get older, attempts to hold on to our independence can be at odds with even the most well-intentioned ‘suggestions’ from our children. We want to be cared about, but fear being cared for. Hence the push and pull when a well-meaning offspring steps onto our turf.”
Talking about difficult concerns/issues
At some point, managing daily living and medical concerns of our aging loved ones will necessitate a conversation amongst family. The manner with which you approach these tough issues is as important as what you say.
Being respectful: When you discuss your ideas and thoughts with your loved ones, do so respectfully. No matter how “right” you think you are, avoid a bossy or dismissive tone.
Understand: Ask questions and be observant of how your loved ones are dealing with their aging. What is their perception of their aging?
Listen: Make sure you are hearing the ideas, plans, concerns and fears they may be expressing.
Don’t be impulsive: Making knee jerk decisions and reacting impulsively or when emotional can backfire. When possible, stop and take some time.
When addressing concerns of finances and personal safety, it is important to broach the subjects with sensitivity and compassion. Regardless of age, it can be quite humbling and even embarrassing addressing money management and maintaining independence. Be very aware that no matter how you candy-coat it, you are you are indicating that they may be losing a large measure of independence.
A discussion about aging and independence will be more comfortable for everyone involved if discussed before an elderly parent or relative needs help. Establish definitive signal events that might indicate they need help (i.e., falls and bruises, receiving financial account alerts, late payments, missed appointments) and come up with a plan as to how you will work together. Talk about possible complications and consequences that could arise without a plan in place.
If possible, discuss putting together a winter emergency kit. At minimum, make sure the kit includes quality winter walking shoes/boots, emergency flashlights, bottled water, medication list and a first aid kit.
Coping with the aging of our parents is a life lesson — one which will be taught to us whether we want to learn it or not. Embrace the lesson.
Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Garfield and Pitkin Counties. His contact information is, http://www.visitingangels.com/comtns, 970-328-5526.