In a recent New York Times Well article by Jane Brody, she wrote, “…aging and illness alter who we are, so move on and make the best of the here and now.” This article and statement reminded me of aging parents who are stubborn and refuse to acknowledge and accept their limitations as they age.
In our mediation practice, we have come across parents living alone in their homes insisting that at the age of 90 they are able to maintain their independence and perform the daily tasks of grocery shopping, preparing meals and getting to doctor appointments on their own. While this sounds impressive and seems like a goal we should all try to achieve, and some nonagenarians are able to do this, the truth is that at the age of 90 these daily tasks become more challenging and stressful. If the adult children observe more closely, they will see their aging parents become more exhausted by these tasks, become more frustrated by these tasks and take unnecessary risks that increase their chances of falling and injuring themselves. So why do aging parents go to such lengths to be independent — Pride! Our aging parents have pride in aging gracefully and independently without seeking assistance from their children. Although they have aged, they have no intentions of changing the way they live. We all should get that and applaud the determination of a 90 year old to maintain a life that they have lived and have enjoyed for such a long time. However, there comes a time when circumstances have changed and it may no longer be wise for aging parents to continue living alone as if they were 50 years old.
So what can an adult child do in this situation? First, act early and quickly to prevent a crisis and serious accidents. As an adult child who either is involved or will become involved with your parents’ care, you have standing to discuss with your parents the ways in which they can balance their aging process with their desire to remain independent so that they remain safe. That may include getting an aide for a few hours a day who can help with cooking and doctor appointments and it may mean ordering groceries online instead of walking to the grocery store. It may also mean moving to an independent or assisted living facility. And if necessary, this discussion may progress as there are further needs for a safer environment.
The other important suggestion, which Ms. Brody highlights in her recent article, is that our aging parents should learn how to embrace and adjust their expectations regarding their changed circumstances. Instead of becoming angry and upset about the aging process, accept the changes and strive for a successful life with accommodations that make life easier and safer. There is no shame in accepting a new life style as you age. Perhaps as our parents age, they can become more involved in figuring out how they can create a new life that takes into account new safety limitations but is nevertheless fulfilling and engaging.