By Marianne Delorey, Ph.D., Executive Director, Colony Retirement Homes
“When I look back on all these worries, I remember the story of the old man who said on his deathbed that he had had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which had never happened.” – Winston Churchill
I was talking to an elder recently who struggled to deal with her well intentioned, but very anxious family. They worry that she doesn’t get enough to eat. They worry that she shouldn’t be driving. They worry if she is taking her meds. They worry that she might fall and they worry that she is getting forgetful.
We worry because we care. We don’t want our elder to get hurt. But if you are one of the worriers, you should know that your worrying can have a negative impact on your elder. Make sure you are considering their well-being by reality checking your concerns.
- Ask, “What if?” Sometimes when people are worried, they envision the worst-case scenario. It helps to ask what will likely happen next. As an example, what happens when someone falls? Very often, the answer is nothing. Yes, people can break a hip or hit their heads, but often they are just a little shaken and bruised.
- Identify smaller next steps. Research and present ideas that have small next steps to lessen your worry (removing cords and rugs to prevent falls) instead of moving to the extreme (you can’t live there anymore).
- Practice empathy. Yes, maybe your elder is a bit forgetful. Have you ever lost your keys? Maybe it is ok if the keys go lost from time to time.
- Experience teaches. Your elder will be more ready to take additional steps when their mistake becomes a problem for them. For instance, often it is not a big deal if meals are skipped once in a while. If they get sick as a result, they will remember.
- Own your worry. Call your elder every day if needed, but don’t nag them about the one time they forgot to do something. Tell them, “I know I am a worrier and you probably don’t need my call, but it helps me feel better to just check in. I hope you don’t mind.”
And if you are one of the elders about whom a family is worried, you can help, too. You can resolve their concerns by addressing yourself, or by addressing your family.
- First, own your mistake(s). Your family cannot expect perfection. But if you deny you made any mistake, they are going to think you need even more oversight because you can’t even see you made a mistake.
- Ask for a metric. If you locked yourself out and your family member thinks this is the end of the world, ask them how many times in the past year they have lost their keys.
- Make a plan. If you are starting to have problems, set a realistic expectation: “Ok, I hear your concern about my driving. The insurance company said this accident was not my fault. I am willing to discuss this if I am in an accident that is more than 50 percent my fault.”
- Define your goals. Your family member is worried that an accident or mistake is going to cost you your life. Set your parameters for what kind of life you find acceptable. “I would rather live in my house and fall and be on the floor for days rather than move. An acceptable life to me is one in which I get to live where I want.”
- Allow some worry, but reality check them. “I know you are calling because you care, but please don’t call during my favorite show. You can call me any time after 5 p.m.”
Most families are completely unprepared for how to parent the older generation. But the older generation needs to show them how they want to be cared for, too.