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28 Apr

Aging Parents: Am I doing the right thing??

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My parents are 77 and 87 years old. My mother has moderate stage Alzheimer's disease. My father, though 10 years older, is generally in good shape.  They are currently in an Assisted Living Center where they have been sharing a room. As my mother's Alzheimer's has progressed, she is more disoriented, her balance is worse and she is experiencing some toileting issues.  The administrators at her current center are recommending that she move upstairs to the locked memory unit. There they can keep closer watch on her, provide activities geared towards her level and keep her from falling.  My dad is devastated. While they have offered for him to move to the unit with her, he has declined because it is too painful to see so many others in the final stages of the disease. He maintains that he watches over her and cares for her.  Our argument has been that we want him to stay healthy and not get sick and it's too much responsibility.  His retort-"What else do I have to do?  If I die from taking care of your mom, that's OK with me."

I watch my neighbor with Parkinson's. He is 77, wobbly on his feet but walks with quick determination. He loves to work in his yard. His kids- who live out of town want him to stop because they are afraid he will fall and hurt himself. As I watch him outside every day, I imagine that if he fell and hurt himself or even died doing yard work, he would die happy.

As an adult child, I want to do what's best for my parents.  I want to keep them safe and protect them from harm. As they age, their bodies sometimes take them back to a metaphorical childhood where they need to be "watched" by their own kids.  As I have experienced this process myself, I struggle with the balance of "watching my parents" to keep them safe while also allowing them the independence and right to have some control over their own life.  I worry that if I take too much control to keep them safe, I might rob them of their will to live.

There are no easy answers. It truly is a matter of balance but through this process I better understand how important it is to consider the wishes of the aging parent and respect their wishes as much as possible. I did this with my parents, moving them to another facility where they could live together and my dad could tolerate the other not as advanced patients in the memory wing. It certainly wasn't the easiest solution but it was a compromise that respected his wishes while assuring their safety.  Sometimes I hear of adult children who make arrangements for their parents solely to meet their own needs.  I hope that this message can help temper these types of decisions.

This and many other life transitions, can be discussed with the therapists at Wellspring Center.