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Getting Gramps To Listen

Senior Health > Getting Gramps To Listen

One thing I’ve noticed about older folks is that their personalities don’t really change as they age, they just become more pronounced. That means, if Uncle Joe was on the cranky side in his younger days, he has likely turned into a cantankerous, old man, and by the same token, if grandma was always polite and considerate as a young woman, she is probably known as “that sweet old lady” nowadays. I mention this as a reminder that older people are still who they always were*, with all their strengths and weaknesses, charms and foibles, and they should be treated as such. It is both unfair, unkind, and most importantly, ineffective to assume that you can tell an older loved one what is best for him or her and he will automatically listen and accept what you say, just because you have his best interests at heart.

What if dad does not want to give up his driver’s license despite the fact that his vision is so poor that he has become a danger on the road? Or, say mom has forgotten to turn the stove off a few times, yet she refuses to let anyone set foot in “her” kitchen? How do you get them to accept help or allow changes that will make their living situation safer? Why are they so resistant?

The latter question is easier to answer. If you put yourself in their place for a few moments, you might understand how it feels to give up even a small piece of your independence. You might feel, for a minute or two, what it’s like to observe helplessly, as the physical health or mental functioning of your friends, spouse, or worst of all, yourself, begins to be hindered by all sorts of unwelcome ailments and limitations. These changes are not only uncomfortable, but they can, at worst, cause serious deterioration, and at the very least, infringe on your lifestyle and some of your independence.

The word that I think best sums up how one feels when contemplating such changes is “bereaved”. These losses are not unlike losing a loved one and they may be accompanied by a sense of mourning. This may look like sadness or depression, denial, anger, belligerence, or utter resistance to change. It is important to be sensitive to these reactions if you want to be helpful.

The best way for caring family members to intervene when a loved one’s deterioration becomes a safety issue is to have a dialogue. (Remember: dialogue involves talking and listening). Emphasize that you are all on the same page; that you want to preserve as much of dad’s independence as possible without jeopardizing his safety. For instance, he might be more willing to give up the car keys once he is assured that someone will get him to his weekly poker game across town.

Including your loved one in the process may not insure an immediate agreement or solution, but you’re much more likely to get there with less conflict and before the situation becomes a crisis.

* excluding those whose personality & mental abilities have been altered by such conditions as dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease.

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Senior Health > Getting Gramps To Listen