by Ron Tatro, Vice President, Administration and Center for Elder Rights Advocacy
My mother-in-law has been on my mind. My mom recently passed away at the age of 98. It was interesting following changes in her life in recent years and seeing how that journey had impacted her life as she aged. Giving up driving, moving into a retirement village, selling her home, and being put on an allowance had all been milestones for her. At each of these events her emotions ranged from being reluctant to challenging to finally compliant. As I watched her age, I have been thinking about why we don’t see more reported cases of elder abuse. How many times have you heard about an incident such as domestic violence or abuse and stated “I would never stand for that” or “I don’t understand why someone would put up with that”. So, why do elders put up with abuse or do not want it reported?
Recent studies show that seniors go through a transitional processes as they age. At some point they come to the realization that they are beginning to lose control of their lives, and wonder what sort of memory or legacy they will leave behind. As they lose control in areas of their lives, such as driving, financial matters, housing, change of status, and maybe even their personality due to an illness, the battle for control intensifies. How do we as caregivers, family members, and neighbors better communicate with our loved ones and friends?
Researchers offer the following tips for helping seniors transition into the next stage of life.
- Realize that every person makes decisions at a different pace. While we may want to have a decision made now, the senior may not be ready. If they are not in a life-threatening situation, try to wait until they are ready to move forward.
- Understand that the real issue under discussion may not be the topic of conversation such as selling their car. The real issue is a loss of control and independence. They feel the need to push back. Sometimes this need to hold onto control is so strong that it will outweigh the logic of the decision to be made.
- When communicating with a senior, engage them in the conversation. Ask open-ended questions, such as “What would you like to see happen?”, “How do you see yourself living after you can no longer take care of the house?”, or ”If you could make a change, what would it be?”.
- Once a senior has expressed their choices, preferences, etc., try to respect those choices. Help them begin planning for those changes which will ultimately arrive.
All of us are looking for ways to best preserve our dignity and independence. Time, patience, planning, and understanding are the keys to a life well lived.
Until the next time
Ron Tatro is the Vice President & COO for Elder Law of Michigan. Ron works on a wide range of projects including consumer related issues, elder abuse prevention activities, aging and disability issues. He has joined with local, state, and national partners to identify new and creative ways to address aging issues and its impact on older victims of exploitation and abuse.