Dealing with aging parents

I found this article in the Atlantic “What Aging Parents want From their Kids”.

Anyone who has or is dealing with this issue understands the complexity of how the role of parent-child suddenly become reversed.

Alot of the discussion was about how elderly parents suddenly feel like their children are judging them. Acting like they are “old” or feeble minded. They dont like it and I cannot blame them.

However sometimes the elderly are just darn stubborn. They refuse to believe they cannot do things and will not ask for help.

It is a difficult situation.

Any insights?

They’re aging… again.

Just do what you CAN do. Suggest what you can suggest. If they do not follow your advice, then not a DARN thing you can do about it, so forgetaboutit and go on and live your life.

i.e. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink!

For example my dad was making some serious tax errors - not doing what he should. My sister-in-law was having a cow about it. I said we told him he should not do that. If he is going to ignore our advice, then NOTHING we can do about it. I am going to go have fun and forgetaboutit. You should too.

As my mother and grandmother have been told and keep being told: “you ARE old!” Dealing with someone who refuses to admit that 73 or 102 happens to be old is a lot more difficult than dealing with someone who accepts it.

Dad once apologized to me for “getting old before my time” (he was 63 and dying). I told him to berate his mother when he saw her again, as it was clearly a manufacturing defect. He said “ok, I will”. He was in much worse shape than Mom is now, but in many ways it was a lot less difficult to care for him - because he accepted that he did need care. The few things in which it wasn’t easier were those for which he had any kind of hangups.

I think you’ve answered your own question here. :smiley:

I went through this about a year ago in trying to convince my parents that they ought to avoid ladders and stepstools. The initial response was a polite rejection (mostly from my dad), along the lines of “thanks for your concern, but we’ve got lives to live here.” However, they are now heeding that advice, and I think part of it may be because I asked them to talk to each other about it, about how they would cope if one of them got hospitalized because of a fall from a ladder/stepstool.

Your article speaks of planting an idea, stepping back, and bringing it up again later. Maybe that fits here. My sister and her husband see my parents on a regular basis, and over time they escalated to the point of expressing some anger at my parents for their continued use of ladders/stepstools (perhaps not entirely unwarranted, since they would be pressed into service in the event of a ladder-related hospitalization). For my part, I crafted one diplomatic email to my parents, which began by telling them that I would speak my mind on this one occasion and then shut up about it. Perhaps the fact that it was a one-shot deal had something to do with its success…

Always give them time to get to what you want. Expecting a few sentences from you to get them 100% onboard is crazy. Talk about it, say your bit me then leave it alone. Spend some words prefacing your concerns with compliments on how you admire their…resourcefulness, fortitude, ability to think things through etc. Point out they must surely have seen friends suffer from an unwillingness to accept help, an unwillingness to change their ways, etc, etc.

Always be respectful and always leave them their dignity.

Our temptation is to parent them, much in the style they parented us. It’s a very natural instinct. But to them it reads as total condescension. Be cautious with the words you use. Say things only in the kindest gentlest way possible.

Constantly think about how you would like to be told, ‘you shouldn’t drive’, or some other very difficult thing to hear.

Lots less, ‘You should…’, and way more, ‘Maybe you should consider…it’s just a suggestion, I’m sure you know best.’ Plus a big serving of, "I’m not worried, you’ve always been…smart, self aware, capable of wise decisions, etc.’

It’s not easy. Wishing you Good Luck!

Easier said than done, unfortunately, especially if the mistakes can impact your lifestyle.

Poor financial decisions can result in your having to step in and take care of the parents - we’re in this boat right now, as they’d be quite literally homeless otherwise.

Poor health decisions can mean they require caregiving much earlier than they’d have needed otherwise.

Decisions about where to move can make all of the above that much more complicated. We, at “only” a thousand miles away, are physically closest - the other siblings are 200 to 700 miles further. This makes it tough to see how they’re doing versus how they SAY they’re doing (they actively lied to us on quite a few VERY important things).

My dad and his mom both died of the same genetic neurological condition. My dad died about 10 years after my grandmother. One of the symptoms was deafness, so both me and my dad and he and his mom communicated by writing on note pads.

Months after my dad died, I was cleaning and found a bunch of old notepads with his written side of conversations to her, while he was still healthy, trying to convince her to accept her many limitations.

It was uncanny to see that he had the exact same conversations with her that I had later had with him. I mean, he had talked to her about the exact same symptoms and their related limitations with her just 10 years before I had to have the same conversation with him.

He admittedly had dementia, which probably had a major impact on how he responded to his declining health. Still, it’s pretty amazing to see how stubborn and in denial he was considering he’d been on the other side of the situation so recently.

Really good comments. You have to decide what YOU are WILLING to do, and what your goals are. Caring for an elderly relative can be an enormous time/resource/emotional sink. And for what? No guarantee the recipient is going to appreciate your efforts. So do what you doo for YOURSELF.

And don’t let siblings or others tell you what you should be doing, and what you should be feeling.

Beware of thinking you can balance on the fence. If you are letting them make their own decisions, realize they will be making some bad ones. If you want to make the decisions for them, you have to take steps such as having them declared incompetent.

If there is money, accept that huge sums will go to last years’ maintenance. Hiring professionals can ease some of your efforts. But there are TONS of folk out there eager to - legitimately or not - separate the elderly from their assets. You have to decide how much effort it is worth to you to try to slow such expenditures how much.

Our shining light is that my wife has to be happy about some genes she may have inherited, as the old bat MIL refuses to die. Weight at an all-time low, so there is always hope… :rolleyes: Really sucks to realize you’ve become a person whose primary emotion towards a relative is wishing they would die ASAP…


If they’re a truly a danger to *other people *they belong institutionalized.

If they’re a danger to themselves then it’s a balancing act. Living more days having a lot less enjoyment per day is not necessarily a good tradeoff. Until they’re incapable of reasoned judgment they get to make that decision and they get to live with the consequences.

My advice: provide thoughtful & gentle advice, and accept that they’re going to do something way short of ideal from your POV. And that’s 100% their right.

If they insist upon living far from family, well … they eat the consequences, not you.


And always be aware that your idea of “reasoned judgement” may not be the same as theirs.

Oh yeah - the one thing you can definitely gain from dealing with an ageing relative is insight into what YOU want others to do for YOU when you age. In our cases, it involved getting all prior notifications in order, and lining up folk who would help us off ourselves if need be. Cheery stuff! :smiley:

I know it sounds sad and mean but I find this to be a big temptation. Maybe your parents were rough on you and now, the tables are turned and you have a chance to dish it right back. Dang, I know this is tempting. I know my Dad started doing this as she got older. He would do things and when she objected, he would bring up the past which of course didnt go well.

I hope I dont do it.

This is a good point. I have three siblings who still live near my parents while I live over 500 miles away.
Maybe it’s because they deal directly with them more often my siblings deal with my parents by dispensing well meaning advice and suggestions. “You should ask your doctor this, you should try eating that, you should have my tax person look at that, maybe you should get rid of those”, etc.
I think they don’t realize that this make our parents feel old, and out of touch, and dependent.
To counteract this I’ve made a concious effort when I talk to my parents on a weekly basis to always ask their advice on various topics wether I intend to use their advice or not. “I’ve got another cold, what should I eat? My lawn has weeds again , what should I do? Junior hates doing homework, what can I do? Who should I vote for this year?”
They love dispensing advice and it makes them feel needed and relevant and non-burdensome.

I’m glad to read this thread; it helps to know that one isn’t the only one coping with this. I live 1200 miles away from my mom, and my only brother is a self-absorbed idiot, so no help on this stuff.

My mom was exhibiting some unusual behaviors at Christmas, and I’ve been worried. Some are due to age, I think (she gets fussed easily) and some may be due to drinking too much (she likes her bourbon, which isn’t a good drink for her).

Getting fussed I can cope with, though it’s sad to see. The drinking scares me, since I know it negatively affects older people’s health more than younger people’s. I wasn’t able to get her to talk about the drinking, but I did call her doctor and let her know of my concerns and observations, and asked her to talk to my mom at her next appointment. A bit sneaky, maybe, but she’ll listen better to the doctor.

She loves hanging out with my nephew, so I’m glad she has that time with him. He does her heavy yard work, and she does other gardening.

Talk to a therapist if you are worried about this and have to do some care. It helps.

This is a good idea; I’m going to try it. My mom loves when I ask her how she cooked something I liked as a kid, or if I ask for advice, or just let her listen to me talk about problems I’m having then she shares her thoughts.

AK (old fart) here. How can I tell when I have gone past the bar. My younger son doesn’t want me to drive the 300 miles to visit him. I would take the train if there were one; I tried the Big Dog once, but never again. I hate to spend three hours in the airport for a 1/2 hour flight. I hate airports generally but when security and customs/immigration are added, it becomes unbearable.

All three kids want us to move out of our house and into an apartment, preferably near one of them (but which one). Don’t get me wrong. We have three wonderful, caring kids, but I just don’t know how to proceed. The thought of packing up and leaving this house of 44 years is just too daunting.

I totally agree with OP

My mother is going through the phase of not wanting help.

Her home has always been very clean and now she is not able to clean because as she admits her loss of memories prevents her from wanting to do anything.

Hired some in home cleaning service and a nurse to help her for the week so I can continue my life without worry.

She has run everyone off and now I have to clean for her and see to her needs. Now she has started in on me for cleaning too much. She likes when I cook for her but gets mad when I try to clean up my mess, it’s like she actually likes filth, grease, grime and ooze and shitty toilets.

She even has long term health care that she has invested in for over 15 years, which she refuses to use. Too invasive she says.

I fear her next move will be a retirement home because of her stubbornness.

I wish you the best

I got tired of watching my parents make horrific, costly mistakes on their taxes so I volunteered to do their taxes for them. They were very happy about that because both of them struggle with computers. Problem solved.

The other problem is my dad, who has had several falls on level ground, is constantly climbing up on ladders to mess around with the roof and trees. My mom gets mad at him, but he won’t stop. I try not to look. He wants to die falling off the roof, that’s his decision.

I was a health aide and cared for elderly 80 -102 yo . I had some clients that wanted to do a much as they could and some wanted to be treated like helpless babies. I am not sure what health issues your parents has , but if they have any kind of memory lost this require a lot of understanding and patience.
You could do things to help and not ask if they want it . You can made sure there are no rugs or cords to trip on , if they use a cane or walker made sure there enough open space in the house . Made sure the bathroom is safe for them . Change the batteries in their smoke alarms and if they old put new ones in. There a lot of little things you can do to help your parent(s) just be tactful about doing it . I had to be careful and not make my clients feel like they
were helpless like kids , they had a lot pride even at 102 yo.

I have a close friend I am dealing with right now. His health is failing fast, he has no money ($600.00 a month). I suggested to him that assisted living where they take your social security check might be his only option. He blew his stack and actually cried telling me that was not an option. He simply has no options left, he is staying with another firend right now and that won’t last for more than 2 months if he is lucky. I am at a loss. 3 or 4 times a week he is calling me to help him with something he shouldn’t be doing in the first place.