David Solie’s 89-year-old mother, Carol, was unyielding. “No, I will not move,” she told her son every time he suggested that she leave her home and relocate to a senior living residence.
It didn’t stop there. Although Carol suffered from coronary artery disease, severe osteoporosis, spinal compression fractures and unsteady balance, when Solie brought in aides to help after a bad fall and subsequent surgery, his mother fired them in a matter of days.
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“In her mind, she considered it a disgrace to have anybody in her home,” Solie said. “This was her domain for over 50 years, a place where she did everything by herself and in her own way.”
Conflicts of this sort often threaten relationships between aging parents and their adult children just when understanding and support are most needed. Instead of working together to solve problems, families often find themselves feuding and driven by feelings of resentment and distress.
Solie considered going to court to ask for a conservatorship — a legal arrangement that would have given him control over his mother’s affairs. But his lawyer advised that this course of action would destroy Solie’s relationship with his mother.
Solie is now a health care consultant who helps other adult children make decisions about caring for their parents. Make preserving trust and keeping your relationship intact — not winning arguments — a priority, he suggests. What your parents most need is confidence that you’ll listen to them, take their concerns seriously and stay by their side no matter what happens, he says.
How adult children communicate with their parents can go a long way toward easing tensions, Solie says. Instead of telling your parent what to do, ask how they’d prefer to solve problems. Elicit their priorities and recognize their values when making suggestions. Give them choices whenever possible. Be attuned to their unexpressed needs and fears.
When Lee Lindquist, chief of geriatrics at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, asked 68 older adults in eight focus groups why they resisted help, the answers varied. They said they were afraid of losing their independence, becoming a burden on loved ones, being taken advantage of and relinquishing control over their lives.
Asked what might make a difference, the older adults said they liked the idea of “interdependence” — acknowledging that people need one another from childhood to older age.
Here are some tips to help navigate a loved one’s final years: