How do we deal with my father who has heart failure who wants to travel and expects only family to care for him?

2 answers | Last updated: Dec 23, 2010
A fellow caregiver asked...

My father is in the hospital with heart failure. His doctors say he fine to fly to Florida for a few weeks while he waits for his next treatment. Another doctor says he can't take care of himself.  We don't want him to go because he won't allow for an in-home care giver.  He is so stubborn and selfish.  He wants my brother to take care of him day in and day out, never mind the fact that my brother has a full-time job and family.  Should we just put our collective foot down and not take him to the airport?

Expert Answers

Boy, are you in a pickle. I sympathize. You're trying your hardest to protect your dad, but dealing with contradictory medical advice. Not to mention your dad's stubbornness about getting outside help. There are different ways of looking at this. One is to let your dad do as he chooses as it's his life. The other is to dig-in as the caring offspring, and do all you can for his health, safety, and family stress. I noticed your email name is "worn out," and I can see why.

First, I would talk to all of your dad's doctors about how the contradictory advice on his ability to travel is extremely stressful on you (and the family), and ask if they can reach consensus. They may not be used to this kind of request, but it's worth a try. If they're not able to agree (and many time doctors do come to different reasonable conclusions), I'd err on the advice of the cardiologist or heart doctor, as this is your dad's most serious concern. I'd ask the cardiologist for specific details on why he/she thinks your dad should or shouldn't travel, and write them down, so you can discuss them with your dad and other family members. If the doctor thinks it's safe for your dad to travel, be sure to ask for tips or pointers on making the trip comfortable and successful. If the doctor thinks it's not safe, ask for details on the risks, so you can point them out to your dad.

You can also try asking the doctor to talk to your dad about the importance of getting outside (nonfamily) assistance, as his family is maxed out. He may better "hear" this if it's coming from a medical expert.

A few other things to consider: Maybe your dad would be open to a friend or family traveling companion, like a teen or young adult. An informal caregiver. Or part-time assistance, that comes across to him as no big deal.

If he doesn't budge, it's really OK for you to practice tough love. You and other family members can lay your concerns on the line. "Plain talk," is hard to do. But it really can make a difference, especially if it's spoken calmly, without anger. "Dad, I love you dearly, and this is my bottom line. . . "

Community Answers

Frena answered...

as an outside caregiver, i'm very familiar with the "only-family-members-allowed" attitudes of stubborn elders. it's understandable -- they're usually scared and also it can be a generational cliche belief that no-one outside the family can be trusted.

also, and frankly it sounds likely in your family, older parents can be bullies about this stuff and make unreasonable demands. it's time to stand up for firm kindness and practical planning. don't be bullied and make it clear you won't be manipulated, but acknowledge how hard it is for Dad. and emphasize how much you all care about him.

since there are plenty of really good caregivers for hire these days, i'd suggest a family conference and some straight-forward sensible talk, allied with refusal to be blackmailed. acknowledge his reluctance, empathize with his fears, offer to find a great helper for him and lay out the limits of what family can do (especially since it's seriously cutting into essential earning time for family members).

this is indeed a tough love situation. elders tend to fight outside help and it's natural but often self-destructive. try finding a good caregiver and taking them along to meet Dad, without getting prior agreement. just see how it goes. it can work well. it might not.

the family needs to talk over the options privately and come up with various offers to Dad. then step back a bit. as for following doctor's advice, some doctors are over-protective as their own insurance against misfortune. it doesn't have much to do with life satisfaction on the part of the patient. i'd go with the doctor who thinks Dad can do it.

and i think your family can do this too. if you doubt this, why not get a family mediator in for the negotiation. people who bully their own will usually back down in front of outsiders and then maybe you can all come up with a plan.

your caring about your Dad is a great thing and i honor you all for it. he's a lucky man. good luck to you all!