Moving Into the Unknown

There is a point in each of our lives when we begin to look at our parents differently. We move between the roles of child, friend, and caretaker with relative ease. These are the several hats one canexpect to wear throughout a relationship with their parents. A simple phone call is all it takes to move these comfortable roles into the unknown.

A few months ago my mom called to say, Hello, and by the way I had a small episode yesterday. Being in the healthcare business, alarms rang through my head. What she described to me next were the symptoms of a mild stroke. A few probing questions later, I discovered that she had not been following her doctors orders. Isn’t she the one who made me take my medicine as a child, and watched over me through surgeries as an adult? How could she ignore her own health, and doctor’s advice? Although a lecture wanted to explode through my lips, I took a deep breath and began a new phase in our relationship. I became the professional, andthe caretaker. Although I must admit, a lecture did follow.

It may be a phone call from your parent, a neighbor, or a medical professional that throws you into this new role. It’s possible that while visiting with your parents, you notice changes that raise your own alarms. Their forgetfulness is now affecting everyday activities. They’re slowly beginning to isolate themselves from family and friends. Do they seem exhausted, and to be dropping a significant amount of weight? These are all early signs that should not be ignored. So, what do you do when you are faced with these challenges?

First and foremost, do a safety check. Where is the immediate risk? What steps do you need to take to alleviate this risk? Next, take a deep breath and look at the full picture. What information do you need to know and from whom? Talk to your parents to get their perspective. If needed, talk to other family members, medical professionals, and your parents friends or neighbors. This can help you to develop a clearer perception of the situation. When you have gathered all your information, prioritize it by the impact it would have on your parents current lifestyle.

If youre a parent, you know how hard it is to let go and allow your children to be independent. Its even more difficult for a parent to let go of his or her own life, and allow their child to manage some of their independence. Remember, this is your parent’s life. Be sensitive to the impact that change has on it, and keep them involved at all levels of the solution.

Solutions come in many forms: medication management, healthy meals, home health support, senior housing, assisted living, and skilled nursing. Sometimes the answers are easy and quick, and other times they involve major decisions. There are many professionals who you can turn to for advice and counsel. Doctors, nurses, social workers, and church members are all willing to help you and your parents through these changes. There is one bit of advice I would like to suggest you consider throughout this process. If you do not feel comfortable with one professional and their advice, seek another. However, if you keep receiving the same advice, look at it closely. It may have merit, even if it isn’t what you want to hear.

As for my mom, she’s doing well. I still ask about medication, her blood pressure, and diet. However, this police work makes up just a small part of our relationship. She rolls her eyes at me occasionally, like she already knows what I’m about to say and doesn’t want to hear it. However, at the same time, she respects my advice and knows I want the best for her. The best prescription for our parents and us, is patience, love, and understanding.