Many of us are in the “Sandwich Generation”, so I had to chuckle to myself as I typed this title. This could have a couple of different meanings for all of us, but what I’m referring to today is having the difficult discussion with our elderly parents about things such as end of life planning, giving up their car keys, moving to assisted living, appointing a power of attorney and other important decisions.
I had a client who was driving to a doctor’s appointment in New Haven, and ended up at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton Ohio! TRUE STORY! I shudder to think about what could have happened to her! I had been trying to convince her adult daughter to take away her car keys, due to dementia, for months, but she didn’t want to “defy her mother”. Thankfully, the wonderful people at Wright Patterson called her daughter, fed her, and put her up for the night until her daughter could come get her the next morning. Please believe me when I tell you that it is most certainly NOT defying your parents to insist that they give up their car keys when they are no longer safe behind the wheel. Enlist the help of their family doctor, a trusted friend, or pastor if you must, but, do whatever it takes to ensure their safety, and the safety of others on the road.
Obviously, the way that you approach them will affect the outcome. Think about these two examples, and consider which one you would rather have someone use when talking to you.
“Mom, you nearly killed someone today when I was riding with you to the bank. Give me your car keys. It’s time to give up driving. Now!”
Or….”Mom, you seemed really nervous today when we were driving to the bank, do you think that perhaps it’s time to give up the car keys? I’d be happy to make sure that you got to your appointments, and anywhere else that you need to go.”
The second statement is a much softer approach, don’t you agree? I’m sure that if you approach your parent with the first statement, or something similar, they are going to instantly become defensive, whereas, if you speak to them gently, and ask them an open-ended question, such as the second one, they will be more willing to discuss the issue with you, especially if they know that you’re willing to make sure that they will still be able to get to where they need to be.
The main reason that the elderly, or really, any of us, are resistant to change, is because it’s scary, and it feels as if we’re giving up our independence, and for our parents, that’s true. Obviously, it’s to different degrees for everyone, but, whether it’s giving up the car keys, giving up control of their finances, or moving to assisted living, each of these things represent a certain loss of independence.
I always recommend to families that when you plan to talk to your parent about any of these issues, first, make a plan. Don’t just “wing it.” Have a family meeting, and figure out who is the best person to do the talking. Many people automatically assume that it’s the oldest child. That’s not necessarily true. I’ve seen many families in which the youngest, or middle child, or even a son or daughter-in-law is the best person to represent the family in speaking to the parent. Trust me when I tell you that this will make all the difference in the world! Also, I recommend that you don’t make the parent feel as though you’re “ganging up” on them…whomever you choose to do the talking should approach your parent alone, on their turf, so that they feel comfortable. Don’t expect them to agree immediately. It will take some time for them to get used to the idea, but again, this is to be expected. Reassure them that you’re concerned BECAUSE you love them, and are worried for their safety, NOT because you want to take away their independence. Be sure and stress the positives that will come out of the decision. For example, when giving up driving, if they tend to worry about money, tell them that they will save money on gas, maybe they can even sell their car and put that money in the bank. There are always positives to every situation.
In the next issue, I’ll discuss talking to your parent about moving to assisted living. Remember, if you have any questions for me, or anything that you would like to see addressed in this column, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or send me a friend request on Facebook.
Until next time,