What do you do if your older parent chooses different medical treatment than you want for them? If they want to stop taking their medicine or if the refuse treatment? If they are tired of living and just don’t want to try anymore. This is a dilemma I have seen time and again in families. Adult children have their own ideas about how their parent should treat an illness and this can result in an argument.
If an adult is in their “right mind,” meaning they have not been assessed and determined to be incapable of making rational decisions, then they get to choose. And this can be very difficult for their families. I have seen adults stop taking medicine because they didn’t believe in medicine or they didn’t like how it made them feel. Or because they couldn’t afford it. Their children say, but you need it to live! The adult knows this, but is making a choice. I have seen adults have very harrowing experiences in the hospital, painful surgeries or debilitating side effects, long term recovery. They know they never want to experience that again, so they might refuse to see the doctor if they know something is wrong or if they fear they might need surgery again. If someone hasn’t been through this, they may not realize how traumatic it is and how fear can stop someone from acting. It is similar to having a car accident and being afraid to drive again. I have even seen people decide they want to stop living. They are tired; tired of hurting or tired of being alone or tired of being a burden. They aren’t suicidal, they are just passive about working to live and if death comes they are willing to embrace it. This scares their children because they don’t want to lose the parent. But whose best interest are the children acting in?
I’m not suggesting stand back and let the parent die. I’m suggesting try to understand why the parent is feeling how they feel and be respectful. It may be difficult, but try to imagine how you will feel at that age. Try to assist that adult in maintaining their choices and their dignity, but it is also ok to have a conversation about how you feel. Enlist the help of a social worker, a pastor or a therapist to mediate the conversation and help each person see the other’s perspective. Ultimately, however, you as the adult child might have to get help for yourself in dealing with not liking your parent’s choices. This is not an easy scenario, when you and your parent disagree on how the parent should treat an illness or choose to live, but if you try to force the parent to comply it will often result in anger and resentment, loss of dignity and depression for the older parent. Not necessarily a better solution.
What will you miss when you are older?
What are the inefficient frivolous things you do as an adult that probably waste time or money but you don’t care? Do you go out of your way to a store you like even though it’s an extra five minutes, or splurge on yummy ice cream you don’t need? Do you drive up to the convenience store at 10:00 at night to pick something up? Do you hold onto bad habits that you know you shouldn’t? Do you sometimes stay up late watching TV? These are things we take for granted as mobile independent adults. We do what we want, when we want, because we can. But what if you couldn’t drive and you were dependent on others for rides for everything? Or what if you were on a limited income and there was no room left for frivolous? Or if you lived in someone else’s home and they bought the groceries or controlled the TV? These are the losses that older adults face every day and their children don’t realize.
Getting older often means things our bodies once did easily like walking two steps up the porch can no longer be taken for granted. Balance is off, immune system is down, eyesight goes, response time is slower. Things like this that allow us to remain independent, to come and go as we please, to run into the kitchen during a commercial, become difficult. And that sucks. Losing these seemingly small things can add up to a great sense of loss. Driving less or not at all, no longer being able to live on their own, becoming confused with all of life’s changes can make older adults feel very dependent on their children and a burden. They need so much to meet their daily needs that they stop asking for the frivolous stuff that we all enjoy as adults. What can we do to help?
The longer someone can maintain their independence the better. Even in the little things. Even if they live with you, they may still be able to contribute as productive members of the family. Here are some suggestions:
- Don’t patronize them. Ask them to help in ways that they can sincerely productively help with. They aren’t stupid and if you are condescending they will know it.
- Don’t nitpick or micromanage. Let them do silly frivolous things if they want to. It’s the benefit of being a grown-up. None of us like our every behavior to be analyzed.
- Let them have bad habits. They have given up so much already. They are adults, they have choices, they know the risks. So do you on your bad habits.
- Include them in the decisions about their own lives. If you help in making their appointments, include them in the decision of where to go and when to go and whether to keep going.
- Talk to them, not about them. They’re right here. Don’t talk around them to your siblings or the doctor.
- Don’t tiptoe around the truth. They know they are old. They know things have changed. Be honest. Choices at the end of their lives are just as important as every other time in life.
- Don’t yell at them or treat them like children. It may sometimes feel like they have digressed and act child-like. Often this is because they are confused or scared. Be kind and respectful.
Grown daughter talking to parents at home
My grandmother ate half a banana and drank a glass of prune juice every day for 80 years. When she went into a nursing home that daily habit stopped abruptly because it wasn’t part of the dietary plan. What daily habits do you have that you would miss if someone else was in charge of your life? Consider these things in caring for the older adults in your life and their dignity and independence will last longer, I promise.