Q. My 90-year-old father is the sole caregiver of my 83-year old mother, who has Alzheimer’s disease. He does an amazing job, but he is clearly exhausted by the end of the day. I do what I can, but my full-time job limits my ability to help more.
My parents can afford to hire helpers, but my father insists that he can handle everything on his own. How can I convince him otherwise? My mother’s condition will only get worse with time.
Gina F., Fort Lauderdale, FL
A. If I ranked the most common questions I hear from family members, the issue of a parent resisting much-needed help would rank right up there in first or second place. For many reasons — maintaining privacy and independence, as well as pride of loyalty and caring for your loved one — many seniors resist in-home help until the situation deteriorates so much that they no longer have a choice in the matter.
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Nevertheless, it’s a challenge that often requires the professional intervention of a geriatric social worker or care manager who has experience in finding just the right words to “unlock” the stalemate.
I can imagine how many times you have asked your father to accept help. But perhaps a different approach might make a difference. For example, instead of saying, “I wish you’d have help,” I suggest arming him with facts about your mother’s safety — as well as his — as her disease progresses. And since maintaining his independence is a primary concern of his, explain how in-home help would enable him to go out to lunch, take care of household errands, or simply take a walk. In other words, he’d have more control over his life, not less.
As a way to introduce help in a limited way, ask your father what are the most challenging hours of the day. I suspect they are the morning hours when your mother needs personal care such as bathing, dressing and eating. Would he be willing to accept help for just those hours?
Does he enjoy grocery shopping and preparing meals? If not, would he be willing to “try out” a personal chef just once, or once a week, to prepare several meals that can be frozen until needed? If he does like to cook, or wants to learn, he and your mother could act as the “sous-chefs,” which could be a fun time for your parents to enjoy together.
Is your father keeping up with financial chores? Ask him to consider hiring a daily money manager whom he could supervise, to help with bill-paying and record keeping. It’s another way to free up his time that he could better spend with your mother and you.
These small but helpful steps would allow him to “try on” the feeling of accepting assistance from a trusted helper and could make a bigger difference in the long run.
Nancy Stein, Ph.D., is the founder of SeniorityMatters.com, a local caregiver advisory and referral service for South Florida seniors and their families. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.