Caring for Elderly Parents: A Senior Citizen Dilemma

Mar 20th, 2010 | By Sharon Shaw Elrod MSW EdD | Category: Lifestyle, Health & Fitness

Many of you are searching for information about caring for your elderly parent(s) on the Internet.  So it is probably time to address this issue once again.

We have already talked about considerations in caring for our elders in their own home, in your home and in a senior living residence such as assisted living or a nursing home.  The spotlight now is on considerations for decision making with elderly parents.  Keep in mind we may be talking about our parent(s), extended elderly family members or close elderly friends for whom we have accepted care and responsibility in their last years.

Decision making choices run the gamut from the elder making all his/her own decisions to you and others who share responsibility making all the decisions for the elder.  How do you decide how decision-making is handled?

  • Always include the elder in as much decision-making as is possible given their unique situation with regard to cognitive functioning, safety issues, emotional state, physical condition, economics and practicality. 
  • Dad may want to make a 1500 mile road trip, but at 94, he can’t find the wind shield wipers in the car.  So you try to help him understand why he cannot make the trip, and explore other possibilities for going where he wants to go. 
  • Mother may want to cook three meals a day, but her shoulder injury from a recent fall prohibits her from being able to lift a pan from the cupboard to the stove.  So you talk with her about options for meals including a delivery service (e.g., Meals on Wheels or a private in-home delivery service, depending upon economics). 
  • Aunt Isabel was found walking along side a country road over a mile from her farm house.  It was raining.  The sheriff deputy knew her and you, and she called you to come get your Aunt.  Her Alzheimer’s had progressed to the point that you finally had to make the decision to place her in a Memory Care Unit in the local Assisted Living Facility.  She needed care and couldn’t make the decision for herself. It was up to you to decide on her behalf because she could not participate.
  • During your weekly visit with your father, in his own home, he tells you he wants only a private family burial service when he dies.  He does not want a church service, nor anything in the funeral home.  Although he has serious dementia, you know he has thought this through and this is his choice.  You honor his choice when he dies.
  • Your aunt and uncle, ages 92 and 91, are still driving.  You are aware of the safety issues as well as their need to remain as independent as possible.  You talk with them about both safety and independence, and try to strike a bargain with them offering to drive them to appointments, grocery shopping and other transport needs.  If economics allow and if they agree, you hire a private driving service if you are unable to do the driving for them.  If economics do not allow, and if they agree, you strike agreements with two or three other family members to take turns driving for them.  If they do not agree, you may need the assistance of a physician (neurologist?) to determine whether or not safe driving is still an option–particularly if you have reason to believe they are not safe driving. 

The operative thought here is to include the elder in as much decision-making as is reasonable and possible given their unique set of life circumstances.



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