Adult children, aging parents often at odds

Betsy Zuber
A Page on Age

A very large part of my work is spent with adult children who are worried about their older parents. The worries are many and varied. They worry about their parents’ failing health, safety in the home, whether or not they can still care for themselves independently; they are concerned about driving issues and/or increased isolation from others. Many parents tell their adult children, “I’m fine; I don’t need any extra help.” Or their parents might agree that some help is needed.

The interesting part of this issue is that there are two sets of adults, the older parents and the adult children, who are able to make their own decisions and choices on how they live. So who is right? This can depend on many things. Firstly, is the older adult truly at risk? Or do the adult children just disagree with their lifestyle or habits?

Here is a good example of both sides being correct. Adult child calls me to ask what type of age appropriate activities are offered here on Mercer Island. He/she is concerned that the older parent is too isolated and needs to get involved with others. Great idea! So I go and talk with the older parent, enthusiastically espousing the fabulous senior adult activities that are offered here on Mercer Island and the vital senior community we have here. After the older parent patiently and politely listens, he/she tells me that for most of his 93 years, he has done little socializing and is quite content to do more solitary activities like reading, gardening, etc.

Nonplussed, I might try to encourage the older parents to give it a try. If not for themselves, for their children. They are very good at figuratively patting me on the head and saying, “Thanks, dear, but it is not for me.” The balance for all involved is to make sure that the older adult has access to services and activities that are what they want to do and also what is needed for them to be safe.

Now there are times when an older parent makes choices or has failing health that creates a risky living situation. A good example of this is when the older parent is experiencing extreme memory loss, forgets to eat regularly, gets lost while driving and forgets to pay her bills. In this case, the adult child has more to compel the parent to act and create safety for his parent even if the parent says, “I’m fine.” This is probably one of the most difficult situations one may face as parents get older. Trying to honor the parent but needing to take charge of a dangerous living situation. But as an adult child, it is good to be prepared for the worst possible scenario while celebrating their older parent’s feisty independence.

Betsy Zuber, geriatric specialist, has been working in the field of aging for 17 years. She provides social services to people 55+ and their families who live on Mercer Island. Please contact her at (206) 236-3525, e-mail, or mail MIYFS 2040 84th Ave. S.E., Mercer Island, WA 98040. Mercer Island Youth & Family Services is a department of the City of Mercer Island.

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