My 70-year-old mother who still cooks everyday meals, often forgets and leaves the gas burner on. She has several health conditions and keeps all her medicines in one tin box. I once caught her accidentally taking the asthma medication when she was looking for her arthritis pills. My father is not very different either. He likes to stand in the lines himself to pay the monthly Bijli ka bill. He fights back and insists that he does not need anyone’s help. “I am still functional” as he puts it. The other day, this 75-year-old man with a low blood pressure stood for 4 hours in the sweltering weather to wait for his turn.
The reality is that as our parents are getting old they are becoming more vulnerable, forgetful and in need of care and support. But the other harsher reality is that they refuse help. Not just from outsiders, but also from their neighbors, relatives or friends. Their dignity comes in the way. The pride of being the eldest care giver in the family for decades comes in the way. “I built a home and a family, groomed lives and fought adversities… why can’t I pay my own bills and take care of my health”. They are stubborn and strong-willed and struggle to comprehend how age forces us to change our choices. Right?
So, the question is how do we ensure safety, security and comfort of our ageing parents, but not encroach or threaten their dignity? Based on my own experiences, I have identified some key ways we can do that. And this is remarkably similar to how we would deal with our strong-willed very young children.
First, do not offer “help”. Help has a negative connotation in people’s mind. Help is needed by the frail and the incapable and no one, especially our parents ever want to be that person. The choice of words and the tone of the conversation has a deep impact on how the “help” is taken. Let’s say you want to tell your parents that someone should be hired to pay their bills. There can be two ways of suggesting this –
“Dad, you are getting old and you need help. I can’t see you standing for long in the hot weather. Please hire Devendra who can help you pay the bills”
“Dad, why don’t you work on the book you have been thinking of writing – Devendra can save you time by paying the bills on your behalf”
Which one do you think will have a positive impact on their dignity?
Second, don’t make them feel powerless. Remember they were in charge when they were strong and in good health. Now they fear the loss of power and autonomy and unavoidable dependence on their children. This further aggravates when poor health becomes a debilitating factor. But in any case, don’t skip the very important step of having a rational conversation in your desire to extend help and support to them. Explain why you want them to be in charge and continue to oversee their general wellness and health. Encourage the routine of morning walks, the daily dose of veggies, the protein intake – and leave the mundane tasks of filling prescriptions, spending hours on the phone to schedule appointments to someone else.
Thirdly, listen – actively not passively. When we were young, we listened to them, we followed their guidance. Don’t ever take away this sense of respect away, especially when we are far away from them. For my parents, the most important time of the day is when they get a phone call from me and I just mostly listen as to how their day was, what are the little things that make up their world. To know and to affirm often how much you care, lend them your ears.
Lastly, be patient and accept that they are much less likely to change than you desire. Not just in their mindset, but also in their habits and daily activities. It takes much longer, often an approach of extending bite sized doses of learning. Here’s a personal example. Despite numerous mild and aggressive attempts, my father just could not grasp the usage of internet and email. I had to accept this and be very patient and persistent in introducing technology to him. What worked was first introducing him to the world of real-time picture sharing - of his kids and grand-kids, of occasions he could not join or of places he had wanted to see. He slowly developed an appreciation for technology, evolving to texting and then to emails. It was a slow progression but not an impossible one. Keep this in mind the next time you want them to change a behavior or a habit.
The secret of ultimate joy and longevity is the quality of the relationships we have. If you are a data junkie look at the conclusions from this recently released 80 year-long Harvard study of adult development. This confirms that the people who were the most satisfied in their relationships at age 50 were the healthiest at age 80. Relationships are nurtured with love and trust and the more you invest in strengthening your relationship with your ageing parents, the longer and happier lives they can lead.
For more information on how Get Care Of supports healthy and stress-free lifestyles for your ageing parents back in India, visit our services or contact us or call/text at +1-415 290 4951.