When your parents get older and start to have increased risks of falls, forget to take their medications correctly, and are not eating well anymore, it can seem like a heartfelt conversation with them will be all it takes to start the ball rolling on getting some help for them at home or start looking for a supportive senior care community. The reality, however, is often a very firm “there is no way anyone is coming in my house!” or, “the only way I’ll ever move out of here is feet first!”. Very often, they are very sure they are just fine.
So, what is a loving adult child to do, when it may be time to start parenting your own parent? Here are some facts to keep in mind and some ideas to help both your parents and you!
1. Recognize the truth. Unlike when you are taking care of a child, you do not have the legal right to tell an adult what to do. All adults have the right to make their own decisions, even if they are not so smart ones, so long as they are able to understand what they are doing. So, for example, an older adult with diabetes that is hurting their health with a poor diet can make that decision for themselves, even if it makes them sick. Or, an older adult can choose to live alone with no help even though they are falling or not keeping up with personal hygiene or housekeeping. These are all some of the warning signs a person needs help, but that does not mean they have to accept it!
2. Understand your legal right to intervene. You may think that because you are power of attorney for your parents, that you now get to make the decisions. This is true if they activate it and want your help. Then you can sign contracts, pay bills and speak on their behalf, to the extent the power of attorney and what they allow. If they do not want help or want to move, and you are so concerned you want to go against their wishes, you need to have legal help and confirmation from 2 doctors that they are incapable of understanding their decisions and are unknowingly putting themselves in danger. This is either having the Power of attorney activated against their wishes, which is sometimes sufficient, or going through the probate courts to get a guardianship. At Crossroads, we can refer you to an elder law attorney that specializes in these types of situations. These are very serious legal actions, and both require solid proof that a person can no longer make decisions on their own behalf. It cannot be just because you are worried, or they won’t take your advice.
3. Do your homework. Don’t get off to a bad start in discussing your concerns with your parents by reacting in a time of stress and exclaiming “that’s it, you have to move to a home!” or something similar! It is very understandable to be stressed and feel powerless when the people who you love may be in danger, but it is important to approach your parents with respect. Before even having a conversation with them it is best to research what sorts of options for home care or assisted living are available and how they can afford them. Research what financial benefits they may qualify for and try to understand their finances. Be careful not to get scared off by misinformation; getting care for your parents can be affordable. Crossroads can help determine what options are available and how to afford them.
4. Tailor your approach. Once you have educated yourself on possible help for your parents, and understand what your rights are to step in, it’s time to start the talk. At Crossroads, we find the defenses come down a bit by admitting to your parents that while you are concerned , you know it is their life and their decision to make about getting help, and you are only there to help them to get information in this digital world! See if they have questions, which you will be able to answer since you have already done some homework. If not, try to imagine what might be an obstacle. Do they think they can’t bring their beloved dog? (they likely can!) Do they think they have to move to a nursing home? (they probably don’t!) Assure them that you can work together to find a solution they can agree to.
5. Take care of yourself. There can be a lot of back and forth before your parents may accept help, and in the meantime its easy to become overwhelmed with stress, worry and responsibility. Be sure to take care of yourself and set boundaries. Consider joining a support group or reading some books that help you understand your new role in parenting your parents. Crossroads can help you find help!
When the tables turn, and we become our parent’s caregivers, it can become a very emotional and stressful time. With careful planning and love, these last years of your parent’s lives can be filled with positive time together and a good quality of life, and provide you with lasting memories.