Reversing Roles with Your Parents
If you have one or both elderly parents still living, you undoubtedly have noticed some of the inevitable declines in health and ability to manage everyday activities. You may be the child living nearby who drives mom to her medical appointments. Or you may be getting increasingly frequent telephone calls about bills or prescriptions. Slowly, but surely, there is a role reversal taking place, and that can be difficult to accept by both of you, but as the need for help increases, and you take over more and more responsibility, look at it as a thank you for all the love and support you received throughout life.
Here are some thoughts on what to look for and how you can help. Be alert to sudden changes such as great confusion or imbalance. This may be due to a serious illness such as a stroke, incorrect medication or infection. Be on extra alert for a urinary tract infection, as it can have a significant effect on mental function, especially in elderly women. Nursing Homes often suspect a urinary tract infection if a resident suddenly starts behaving strangely.
Be aware of the reasons for gradual decline in function. Everyone uses the word “Alzheimer’s,” but that is a very specific diagnosis and certainly does not apply to many people. Attend a regular checkup with mom’s and dad’s doctor and ask the doctor’s opinion on why there is a decline. Some reasons are dementia, depression, vitamin deficiency or side effects of medications. One of the simplest reasons can be lack of hearing. My own mother has used hearing aids for years, but every so often she didn’t seem to get conversations. We discovered that she has tremendous buildup of wax in her ears, and rather than wait for the inevitable failure to understand what people are saying, we now have her ears and her hearing aid cleared of wax at least twice a year.
Be cognizant of signs of depression, or loneliness. Some people are content to be alone a great deal of time, but many want the companionship of other people. As friends die or can no longer drive, or move away, your parents’ circle of friends may dwindle, and socialization will often do wonders for their emotional well being. This past year it became apparent that my mother felt trapped in the apartment she once loved, and moving to an assisted living facility has meant easy interaction with people, participation in daily activities and a return to her happy outlook on life.
As parent child role reversal proceeds, be careful not to take away “control” until your parent is ready. “Control” is often a difficult balancing act, because you want to help, but you don’t want your parents to feel helpless. Sometimes the subject of handling finances can be eased by having your parents review their power of attorney with an understanding elder law attorney. That way the attorney can make suggestions as how best to handle financial affairs and you are not the person asking for control. When it comes to driving the car, if dad really shouldn’t be driving, you have my strongest empathy, because the car is the single biggest symbol of independence. Tread carefully here and let dad’s doctor help by being the one to have a frank discussion if driving is a risk.
Overall, the need for role reversal is best put in context of reviewing what your parents did for you as you made your way into the adult world. They slowly but surely gave up control over your decisions, kept their fingers crossed, and never stopped giving you their love. That is all you can do in reverse.