"Mom, You Need Help"
Having the conversation with aging parents
DEAR FRAN, I used to say I liked being an only child, but it has lost its luster now that my parents are in their 70s. My father has started showing signs of dementia, and my mother is not going to be able to take care of him much longer. He is getting very forgetful and has even gotten lost when walking in their neighborhood. My mother is healthy, but I worry she won’t stay that way if she keeps trying to be his caretaker. Every time I try to talk to my mother about my concerns, she changes the subject or tells me it isn’t a good time to discuss “such things.” I know it is probably hard for her to admit that my father needs more help than she can give him, but that’s the reality, and we need to be able to talk about it. It is up to me to do it, and I can’t get her to listen. Any advice is appreciated. – Steve
DEAR STEVE, Trying to handle this alone seems overwhelming, so I’m glad you wrote. It can’t be easy for you or your mother to see your father’s dementia progress.
Many people in your mother’s situation are grieving the loss of the partners and lives they’ve known for so long, and they fear the greater loss of their loved ones moving away to a facility. They may feel guilty, fearing they are incapable of providing fully for their loved one. They may also have trouble sharing the responsibility of caring for their spouse with an adult child.
Before you have a conversation with your mom, reach out to the Alzheimer’s Association and other community resources to ensure that you understand the situation and the options, including respite care to give your mom a break.
I find that the best way to start the conversation is to show that you are all on the same side, that you can work together to come up with the best decisions for all. Rather than either of you facing the decisions alone, you can face them together. Rather than criticizing and undermining self-respect, you can support each other. A little empathy will go a long way.
But remember that this is a two-way conversation. Your mother may have gained insight from watching friends and other family members in similar situations, so don’t come into the conversation expecting that you have all of the right answers.
This will certainly be the first conversation of many. Besides new circumstances that may arise, it may take your parents time to see the need for change now. So walk softly to keep the lines of communication open.
As parents age, these conversations become more important. Your mother is lucky to have a caring son. – Fran