How to Deal with Aging Parents in Denial
Perhaps Mark Twain said it best: “Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt!” Denial is extraordinarily common and often the first response to those who realize they’re getting old. It typically manifests in two main ways:
Aging is a natural process every person will experience at some point in life. No one wants to feel helpless. Seniors facing a serious health condition or even just the everyday effects of slowing down that are inherent with aging may want to bury their heads in the sand. Most forms of denial in senior citizens can be attributed to:
Accepting aging in general. This is typically the earliest stage of denial and can be recognized by comments from aging parents such as, “I’m not slowing down! You’re only as old as you feel! Age is just a number!”
Unwilling to admit the need for help. This form of denial comes in the face of a senior’s physical or even cognitive limitations to independence. You may hear statements like, “I don’t need any help. I’ve been taking care of myself all of my life. I know what I’m doing!”
Coming to terms with a new reality. This is basically a combination of the two types of denial above. It’s both humbling and hard to accept the need for assistance.
Senior denial may be purely psychological – or, it may be caused by the decrease in judgment that comes with dementia. A senior with dementia loses the capacity to accurately self-assess, and often will truly believe there’s nothing wrong.
Family caregivers themselves often deal with denial in any or all of these forms as well. They may simply refuse to face the facts that their aging parents’ health has declined from what it used to be. Or, they may live at a distance and haven’t had an in-person visit lately to truly assess the seniors’ wellbeing. Older adults may convince their family members by phone or Zoom that they’re fine, and it’s accepted at face value.
How to Effectively Manage Denial
Uncover the reason behind the denial. If not dementia-related, see if it might stem from something more fundamental, such the financial hardship and concern about the expense associated with care. It could be rooted in the parent not wanting to burden family members or anxiety and fear of losing independence. And, are those things causing the denial, or is the denial causing them? Fears such as these can exacerbate denial even if they’re not the root cause, creating additional roadblocks to overcoming the denial.
Start small. Seniors who balk at the idea of home care services may be open to trying just one small service, such as help with chores around the house or transportation. Try introducing the conversation with statements such as, “Let me get you some housekeeping help so you’re not burdened with it,” or, “Would you like to have an outing? I know you’re not getting out as much. I can arrange for you to go shopping and to your favorite restaurant for lunch.” This gets them accustomed to having someone in the home and helping with certain activities that may have become burdensome.
Ask questions. Have a conversation with your parents about how they envision life in their elder years. How will they know when they need help? Is it going to be when they start to have difficulty with stairs? Under what circumstances can they imagine recognizing the need for help? And what type of help do they imagine accepting? Do they have friends who have reached the point that they needed help? What was their experience with that?
Make it more about YOU. Let your parents know that you’re feeling worried and concerned. “I feel badly that I can’t be there, and I get worried about you. It would make me feel better if there was someone who looked in on you once a week to help with a couple of tasks.” It’s amazing how often this works.
Remember, for most people, growing old is hard to come to terms with, but it’s inevitable. Don’t be insistent with your parents when they express denial. Be patient, supportive, and tactful in how you help them cope with it.
When you’re ready to explore home care options for your aging parents, give us a call at (941) 929-1966. We’re here to provide highly customized senior home care in Venice, FL and surrounding areas – as much or as little as you need.