Parent-Child Role Reversal

Most everyone would say that they want to be independent and remain in their own homes as long as possible. This sense of autonomy can be kept in place longer than ever before due to medical advances, assistive devices, and in-home care provided by family members and private caretakers. However, what happens when an elder can no longer remain safely in their home and an adult child is trying to get them the help they need?

Esther is 89 years old. She has lived alone since the death of her husband 23 years ago. She gave up driving two years ago, but is regularly visited by her children and grandchildren, who take care of errands or drive her to handle things herself. Lately, she has been rather unsteady on her feet. Additionally, she has been very forgetful and once left the stove on all night. She is also having trouble remembering to take her medications. There were so many her daughter, Susan, sorts them every week into a pill box. Esther still forgets to take them and sometimes actually doubles up on doses. Susan can see its time for more help but Esther is adamant about not having strangers in the house and doesn’t want to end up in “one of those places…”

Many times, elders resent their adult children trying to help them.  In the elderly parents mind, they are still independent and completely able to handle their own affairs.  In the above example, Esther does not appreciate her daughter’s suggestion that they bring in some private home care, or that her mother visit an assisted living facility or rest home. She feels her children are being too pushy, and trying to take control.

But on the other side, Susan feels that Esther isn’t thinking clearly anymore. She is extremely hurt by her mother’s attitude and reaction. After all, Susan is just trying to help.

The parent/child roles have been reversed, except unlike with young children, the adult child does not have the automatic right to make decisions for the elderly parent. Unless the child seeks to declare the parent incapacitated through a court ordered Guardianship or Conservatorship, or has the parent’s Health Care Proxy and/or Durable Power of Attorney activated, the child has to realize that in the eyes of the law, the parent may make their own decisions. And, unfortunately, people are allowed to make bad decisions.  However, it is important that the adult child watch the situation carefully and not get frustrated and leave the parent to their own devices.  Assisting does not mean taking over against their parent’s will.

Too many children have simply given up when their “help” is not accepted. If one finds themselves in that situation, they can contact our office for assistance and suggestions for getting through to the parent, discussing the possible need for Guardianship, ensuring that the elder’s estate planning documents are in order, scheduling a medical evaluation, and/or perhaps referral to a geriatric care manager where appropriate.

The elderly years can be as challenging as the terrible twos, terrible terrible teens, and even the terrible twenties.  Elderly parents must be respected by the adult child who is trying to help, even if the parent/child roles have truly been reversed.

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