How can I help my demanding father -- without neglecting the rest of my life?

2 answers | Last updated: Nov 30, 2016
Marcyv asked...

How do I respond to my 89 year old father who demands much of my attention, and doesn't understand that I have other responsibilities besides him? He lives in a senior residence five minutes away from us, where he is safe, gets meals, has nursing staff available, and other residents with friendly faces. I am his only living child. Guilt guilt guilt!

Expert Answers

David Solie is an author, educator, speaker, and thought leader in geriatric and intergenerational communication. His book How to Say It to Seniors: Closing the Communication Gap With Our Elders is a landmark text that has been read and reread by legions of baby boomers searching for a better approach to working with their parents and other older adults.

When older adults give up their primary living environment, they feel out of control. Even if the new facilities and support staff are ideal, it may not ease the psychological discomfort that being in a new space can create. For most elderly adults, their primary living environment represents the last area of control they have in a world of mounting losses. It sounds like your father is trying to assert some control as he comes to terms with his new living environment and you have become his primary focus.

While this is a natural response, it can be very taxing on the primary care coordinator of the family. Unless you find a way to rebalance his expectations, you will exhaust yourself trying to ameliorate his discomfort. For his transition to be successful, you both need breathing room.

One way to deal with this situation is to offer your father what I call "preferred choices." Preferred choices let aging parents know they matter, while also making it clear that you cannot ignore or renege on the other responsibilities in your life. Even though your resources are limited, you will insure that your aging parents hold a priority status in how they are allocated.

The set up for this strategy is straight forward. Despite the day to day demands of trying to get everything done, you are giving your father first choice whenever you can regarding visits, appointments, and outings. If you can only come for a single visit on a given day, what time would he prefer? If you only have time Monday and Thursday this week to take him to his doctor's appointment, which day would he prefer? This sends a clear signal that he is of central importance in your life and is not being left out. At the same time, it makes it clear that there will be times when you cannot drop everything to take care of his needs.

This is not say that your father will be thrilled with the preferred choice system. But it will reset his expectations and give him clear choices as to when he gets your attention. Without these boundaries, he will not be motivated to seek out other sources of support and attention in his new environment.

Community Answers

A fellow caregiver answered...

sounds like he lives in a assisted living community.those are the worst. my mother,who's active at 87 years old moved in to one and they told her she had to be inside every night by 8pm and can't have guests after 8pm as well.all her neighbors going to bed at 8 or 9pm and getting up as early as 5 and 6am--my mother frequently stays up til midnight and sometimes is awake til 2am watching tv.and even then the staff wiould wake her up at 7am for breakfast.she wound up hating the place and became very lonely and wanted to move out to an independent living community but i played hell getting her out of there.the staffers even threatened that if i continued to try that there would be trouble as they said they're convinced she can't live on her own and needs 24/7 mother has nothing wrong with her except sleep apnea which causes short term memory loss and sometimes long term,depending on how much sleep she's had.i had to speak to an attorney ,who in turn spoke to them and i don't know what was said after he spoke to them, they told my mother that she was free to move wherever she wanted to and whenever as well.she now lives next door to me in a luxury apartment complex specifically for retired seniors(independent living).search the internet and you'll find that assisted living communities frequently display control issues toward they're residents who attempt to move and often attempt to keep their residents by restricting visiting hours so that they're not encouraged to move by friends or family members.the notion is that the less frequent the visits,the more friends the resident will find in other residents there and the less likely the resident will be lonely and miss family and friends..doesn't make sense but it happens all the time.i literally had to struggle to get my mother free from the state's grip on her.i was even told by the staff there that the only time she got lonely was immediately following my mother told them straight up that she was lonely and wanted to live close to me,but they ignored her and continued to claim she was in need of 24/7 care/and the worst part was the fact that my parents have been supporting me for over 25 years,as i'ma disabled adult child(according to the social security disability administration) and the staff at that place tried to persuade her to discontinue suppoerting me,claiming that i'm an adult and need to adjust my lifestyle in accordance with my monthly income that i 'll just have to cut back on whatever it is i'm using my monthly income for(whether it's for groceries or whatever).after my rent is paid i have 170 dollars left.i guess they expect me to cut back on eating and staples like toilet tissue and of their statements to her was "he's a big boy,he can take care of himself".i don't have much respect for assisted living communities in general now after that incident and also because of reading so much iabout them online.