Do Fears for Aging Parents’ Well-Being Unnecessarily Curtail Their Independence?

Of course the responsible answer is “yes” and “no.” But looking at a few examples can give us a “heads up” so we aren’t premature in our actions.

We’re heading for the Grand Canyon today. An experience there, over a decade ago, flashes back. The last time my husband and I spent time there my parents were alive (but not with us). We and the people sitting next to us at lunch began talking. Conversation ultimately turned to aging parents–we all had them. Sometimes I think we brag about old parents like young parents brag about their children.

“Driving” entered the conversation. None of us lived near our parents. My dad was still driving; he was younger than the father of the woman sitting next to us whose husband nudged her, urging her to tell us about her dad.

Old Car

Old Car (Photo credit: dr.stabo)

This couple had been reading the statistics about older drivers and decided that even though her father lived in a relatively small town, he had already defied the averages for people his age driving safely by a good many years. So they had the driving discussion with him, explained their thinking, were mindful of his independence, and said he could keep the car,  but he really shouldn’t drive any longer. The town wasn’t large, he could get around by other means. He agreed; they could take the car keys. It was a relief to the couple.

What they didn’t know–and didn’t find out until much later– was that he called the guy he knew at the gas station, said he’d lost his car keys, someone made him a new key and he continued driving safely until he died. His daughter and her husband decided if he was that sharp, they wouldn’t interfere or tell him they knew, and he died happily–in his early 90s, I believe.

Aging parents driving safely and living safely are two understandable concerns.

Because adult children are quick to see assisted living as a solution to many of the problems associated with aging, it’s important for them to be aware of what J. Donna Sullivan, CSW, former Director of Older Adult Services for the Scarsdale & Edgemont Family described as “typical crises” that prompt adult children to “run to put them (their parents) in assisted living prematurely.

“It’s premature,” she said, “because their parents could continue to live fairly independently for another 5-6 years if they took advantage of services that are available in almost all communities.”  (And these services usually cost less than being in an assisted living situation.) Picture the scene: parents aren’t eating properly, they have deteriorated medically, the bills aren’t paid, the mail has piled up, the laundry isn’t done, clutter is everywhere.

“What I’ve probably seen most, is the deterioration of older people’s health because they’re physically not able to get to doctors or dentists or get their hearing aid batteries—things that probably could keep them in their home and keep them independent longer.  There are services to assist them with meals, with transportation, with housekeeping, but they’re not getting them.  The bills aren’t paid and the mail piles up because they can’t see well and need new glasses and ultimately it gets to crisis mode.  These older people need ‘care management,’ not assisted living.”

Local social service agencies can be very helpful: first, by doing an assessment of elderly parents’ needs; then by making appropriate referrals for special services (eg. Meals on Wheels, home aides) or to other appropriate professionals.

We try to help parents age well and that involves supporting their independence for as long as possible. It may not be easy. Indeed it may require a lot of thought and obtaining good information. But assuming they’re doing nothing that threatens their life or limb, we will never feel guilty–in fact we will always feel good knowing that we did the best we could.

Related: :links to 10 vision safety tips for older drivers; “We Need to Talk” (about driving); CarFit; Should you take a Driver Safety Class?


Help Parents Age Well and in Place: Old Bathrooms. Old Parents. New Shower Fittings for a 97-year-old Woman–Update: Now 100, Still in Her Home

IMG_0971Search engines connect to countless websites offering renovations to help aging parents and others remain in their homes when muscles, joints, and limbs become “ify.” Mobility problems may instantly flash “candidate for assisted living” in the minds of many and rightly so.

The flip side for others, however, is the cost (literally and emotionally) of moving vs. remaining in one’s home. Clearly, if mental capacity has become impaired, remaining at home is risky. When aging parents still have a “good head on their shoulders” and are adamant about remaining in their home, values and a philosophy of life come into play. And so it was for Sr. Advisor R, now 99.

Readers know she still lives, without daily help or a companion, in the 1-story home she and her husband built in the mid-1940’s. From the minute she left the hospital after surgery for a broken hip two years ago (she lost her balance and fell after making a quick turn to straighten out a picture her cleaning woman had turned around), going home was her only goal. After 4 months “of very hard work” (she’ll tell you) in a rehab center, she went home alone, refusing all offers of anyone’s staying there with her. But she couldn’t go home without a physical therapist visiting her home and making specific recommendation to make her home as accident proof as possible.

R is smart, reads widely, orders through catalogs, and had already taken the initiative to have some of the usual grab bars, easier-to-grip handles for faucets etc. installed well before breaking her hip. She was limber enough before her fall to get in and out of a bath tub with help from the grab bars. But after hip surgery a shower became an easier option. That entailed updating her previously not-often-used shower.

IMG_0964The shower is about 4′ x 6′ and grab bars were installed on 3 walls: 2 horizontal and 1 vertical.  Looking in one sees a high step up. A vertical grab bar is unseen on the right wall, just as you step in (or out) and a left horizontal bar above the bench is easily grabbed when stepping into the shower. The 2nd horizontal bar plus a soap dish are within easy reach. Turning the corner, the shower control comes into view. The tile floor is from the ’40’s and would not be recommended today because of its somewhat slippery finish. R is very careful. Doesn’t stand to shower and doesn’t do much walking in the small confines.

Next, the shower control (on the wall opposite the bench) and the long metal shower hose hanging down for the hand-held sprayer attachment (there’s no shower head–only a vertical bar the sprayer could be attached to if used as a shower head, which it isn’t). The sprayer faces the shower controls but actually fastens into a holder on the 4th wall abutting the shower door and near grab bar.  R. says the sprayer attachment is heavier than she would have liked but, she says, “I wasn’t consulted.”

I have a Kohler spray attachment that I love. (Check it out, [e-faucets was least expensive a year ago]); I researched well before getting it. It’s as powerful as the big ones–good for a female, someone with small hands, or someone who wants/needs something relatively light and small. No doubt we’ll make that a gift (Mother’s Day will be here before we know it), but we will check with R first to make certain she’d like it.

The 4th wall, to which the sprayer head is attached, has the vertical grab bar that’s unseen in the photo.

Having a small bathroom and small shower made this “update” simple, but “expensive–around $1,000″–according to R. Moving to assisted or independent living would have been quite expensive. Much more money for much less space. Plus, she’d be leaving a home and neighbors that have been–and are–an important part of her life.

As long as R’s mind continues to be good, she will call the shots (and enjoy her refurbished shower). To do otherwise would be to undermine all that she has done to remain independent. As we try to help parents age well, we stop and ask ourselves: Is it easier/better for us or easier or better for them?”

Related: Bathroom Safety Checklist:–Bathroom/  I found this article several months after writing this post. R’s hands have no problem with the dial shower control mechanism.

Changing weekly: “Of Current Interest”(right sidebar). Links to timely information and research from top universities, plus some free and some fun stuff–to help parents age well.