When Your Parents Need Help
About the Guest
Sonoma House - Assisted Living and Alzheimer's Care
Dr. John Dunlop, a doctor of geriatrics in Connecticut, explains what it means to age well in all spheres of life-physical, mental, social, financial and emotional.
Assisted Living Policy And Regulation: State Survey
How to Check for Assisted Living Violations
Assessing Assisted Living Quality: Consumer Reviews, Ratings & Complaints
Jim Stroud tells how he looked at elder care options for his father, and realized that available facilities wouldn’t meet his father’s level of need. Stroud set out to change that for his father and others.
When Your Parents Need Help
Bob: As our parents age, they can become set in their ways; and they can resist our attempts to try to provide help for them with their living situation. Here’s Jim Stroud.
Jim: Oftentimes, when they are dug in and they’re independent—is, number one, I go back to respect and sensitivity. I have to respect my loved one for what they’ve achieved and the sensitivity of how to approach them. The worst thing is for your parent to feel they are being parented.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, January 4th. Our host is Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. How can we help our parents in a time of life when they need our help but may resist it? We’ll talk more about that today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us.
One of the challenges that a lot of moms and dads face is that—right in the time when you’ve got to be spending a lot of time, as a mom and a dad, taking care of your teenaged kids—a lot of families find themselves also with new caregiving responsibilities that they hadn’t stopped to think about.
Dennis: Yes; and we’ve got a good friend, Jim Stroud, who goes way back to the Weekend to Remember® in Dallas, Texas, back in—I suppose—the 1980s. You and Lynn helped give leadership to that—impacted a lot of people.
Jim: That’s right, Dennis. We got the phone call about being involved; and we said, “Yes.” The next thing I knew—is our home phone number was on the brochure. [Laughter]
Dennis: Yes; and you did a great job answering the phone, Jim. I want to thank you. Will you forgive me for that?
Jim: Yes; if I say, “Thank you,” I’ll, then, have to ask forgiveness for my wife Lynn; because she was the one who did all the heavy lifting.
Dennis: Yes; she did.
Jim and his wife Lynn live in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area. They have been married since 1981. They have two children.
He founded, led, and then stepped out of leadership of a company that took care of people in the midst of aging. I want to know how you got interested in this in the first place. I think it had to do with your dad; right?
Jim: That’s correct. My father was a widower—lived up in the panhandle of Texas in a very small town. He had a stroke and then a second stroke. On the second stroke, both my brother and I knew that he couldn’t live at home by himself. We started the search that many of your listeners go through: “What to do,” “How to make the decision,” “How to communicate with your father,” “What are the options?” and “What, spiritually, can you rely on through this journey?”
We determined that he could come to Dallas; and after a while, I continued to talk to him—if he was sitting here, he’d used the word, “badger,” which is very true.
Then, finally, I got the picture when he said, “When I turn on the TV and the high school sports teams come on, if I don’t recognize the mascots, that’s not my home.”
Jim: I was taking him from his home. So, we realized listening—which is an important aspect to what his needs were—he wanted to stay in the panhandle of Texas.
Next question was: “What were the options?” At that time, which was the late ‘80s, the options really were nursing homes. So, he moved into a skilled nursing home. We knew that it was more care than what he really needed. I talked with the administrator and pled, “Don’t let my father take tray service; because as soon he starts taking tray service into his unit, then he won’t engage and be active at all into the community.”
Sure enough, after four months, he was taking tray service. Within about a year, he lost the will to live—a very painful process for our family. I recognized there was a need there.
He subsequently passed away; and I thought, “Lord, how can I help other people not have to go through this situation?”
Bob: Well, as you talked about your dad, I was thinking about my grandparents, who lived in Flint, Michigan, all their lives. My grandfather worked at the GM plant in Flint—that’s where they raised their kids, and that’s where they lived into their 80s. My mom—meanwhile, she got married; and we moved around the country. She was living in Kansas City.
Well, here Grandma and Grandpa are in Flint, Michigan; Mom’s in Kansas City. When there are health issues, there is nobody but the neighbors; and you’re not sure what you can depend on there. Mom started feeling like she needed Grandma and Grandpa to be close. So, she went and talked to them about moving to Kansas City. Just like your dad, my grandfather couldn’t imagine leaving where he’d lived his whole life and not cheering for the Detroit Tigers; right? [Laughter]
It took some badgering on my mom’s part to ultimately have them sell their house and move their belongings into a retirement community in the Kansas City area, where Mom was living.
Here’s how that marked my mom. After my—both my grandparents passed and they died in their 90s—when my mom got into her 70s / in her late 70s, she moved into an assisted living retirement community, a place where it was staged so that there was independent care for a period time; and then, if you needed more care, it was available onsite.
She moved in; and I thought, “Mom, you don’t need that!” She said: “I don’t now, but the time to move in is not when you need it. The time to move in is now, where you can build relationships and make friendships.” She was loving me by making that choice to move in to that kind of a community. That’s where she lived until she died.
It was a rich period of more than a decade, where she lived in that community, and made friends, and had a level of care that was helpful, and then more care when it was needed.
Jim: You know, it’s interesting, Bob; because what you just said hits a number of elements that we are having to educate people on. Number one is recognition of the need: “When do you recognize the need that one of your loved ones may need care?”
Oftentimes—as you mentioned, when they’re / both of her parents were still alive—you can look at the caregiver. It’s going to be a natural sequence that one will become a caregiver for a season, or it could be for a longtime period. You find just the exhaustion factor that starts taking place. We often go in and say, “Well, another good way, if you are visiting, is the refrigerator test.” The refrigerator test is—you open the refrigerator and see if there is ample food there to meet their needs. Another one is the expiration test.
I have to be careful; because my son, Will, comes into our house; and he’ll look at the expiration on the food products—[Laughter]
Dennis: This has happened at my house too!
Jim: —“Dad, you’re in this industry. Are you okay?!” [Laughter]
Dennis: Yes; our daughter, Laura, comes back and goes, “Dad, this is beyond the expiration date!” [Laughter]
Dennis: We’re just trying to get the mileage out of the food. [Laughter]
Jim: Right; exactly.
Dennis: What are some of the other signals, though, that a loved one—a mom or a dad—may be in need of considering assisted living?
Jim: Well, if you look at the appointments / their calendar—and not just investigating—because you have to have a respect for their dignity and you have to have sincerity—but you ask, “How does your week look?” Then, you follow up with it. Oftentimes, if there are appointments with a doctor or there is a social engagement, you follow back around and say: “How was that appointment?” “How was that social engagement?” If they don’t talk about it or defer it, then, it tells you that transportation can be a problem.
So, that’s another good example—is what I call the calendar test.
Likewise, looking at what their interests are to see if they are engaging, behaviorally. Oftentimes, there is disconnect. It can be a weather change / it could be just a change in a social situation; but their behavior is not appropriate for it. You recognize there is disconnect between their outward behavior and what is actually causing that behavior.
Dennis: You and I actually sit here, today, because I called you. In the process of the conversation, I mentioned some of the issues that I faced with my mom. I asked you—I said, “So, what do we have that’s available to help us, from a distance, to know how our parent’s doing since we don’t live next door?” It maybe just kind of one of those gray areas, where we’re not sure they’re ready to move into an assisted living situation; but they are also sending warning signals out to us that the time may be approaching when they need somebody to—
—how did you describe it?
Bob: —to badger them?
Dennis: —to badger them—
Jim: —badger them.
Dennis: —a little bit?
Dennis: But share about some of the technology that’s available today that can help us protect our parents while they’re away.
Jim: Well, one of the first ones—which I think is most valuable—is fall prevention; because one of the biggest concerns for seniors is—they’re in their home; they’re by themselves / they may even have their spouse there; but they are starting to lose coordination or ability to maneuver. What they find is that getting up at night, going to the restroom; and then, all of a sudden, there is a fall. Generally, when there is a fall, then that’s—it could be a broken leg or a pelvic issue—and then, all of a sudden, the health starts declining. So, it’s a genuine concern.
One of the things you can get is fall prevention.
Basically, it is a medallion—you can wear it around your neck or on your wrist. You can press that; and what that ends up doing is—alerting either in the house, or a neighbor, or 911 that there has been a fall.
The personal story that really drove me to this industry—as I mentioned, my father had a second stroke—well, when I found out that he was six hours on the ground—
Jim: —in his bedroom, eight feet away from the phone, it broke my heart. Then, I realized, “Dad, I’m not going to let this happen again.” It’s really—that was the wrong attitude. The right attitude is—I need to communicate with my father and say: “Dad, that really caused me pain. It really made me upset. How did it make you feel?” because once you recognize, with your loved one, they have the same fears that the adult children have—and the key is to communicate with them and then to listen to their answers.
Bob: Jim, you know there are some folks who—they are a little settled in their ways. You can talk about fears and all of that; but by golly, they want to live in this house and die in this house, and they put up resistance. When you start saying, “Maybe, it’s time not to drive anymore,”—the loss of that freedom is huge for a lot of older people—or when you say, “Maybe, you ought to move to another place,” / “I’m not; I’ve lived here for 45…” What do you do, as a young person, if you’ve got a mom or a dad who has just dug in?
Jim: I think one of the best ways of communication that we share with adult children—and now with your listeners—is the indirect method. Oftentimes, when they are dug in and they’re independent—is, number one, I go back to respect and sensitivity. I have to respect my loved one for what they’ve achieved—
Jim: —and the sensitivity of how to approach them. Oftentimes, indirect is a great way:
“Mom/Dad, I had a friend [whose] mom/dad did this. All of a sudden, it created a problem worse,” or “They got up in the middle of the night and broke a hip. Then, all of a sudden, they’re in the hospital,” and “They knew that they had problems with their coordination,” or “They knew the medications they were on were not the right medications,”—it’s the indirect way of doing that.
Another way is what I call the personal approach—that is: “Mom/Dad, I love you. I appreciate all the sacrifice you’ve given, and I’m concerned.” When your parent, as hard and entrenched as they can be, understands your heart and the direction you are coming from—then, it’s important; because the worst thing is for your parent to feel they are being parented—and that’s the situation where it becomes more reactionary and defensive.
So, the indirect way is a good way to start—
—likewise, the empathy of: “This is the way I really feel. I care for you”; and then, the third thing is timing. Oftentimes, there are a number of opportunities—healthcare fairs, senior centers / other areas. Compared to what it was 30 years ago, it’s vastly different. Now, there are a number of organizations—for-profit/not-for-profit—that have senior fairs where they can go to them. You can take your loved one and then they can meet individuals in the community—either in the home healthcare area, or in the skilled nursing, or assisted living, or memory care—and they start understanding that: “This care is very important.”
What happens with this care, when they start hearing satisfaction surveys—that 90 percent of seniors, after six months, like where they live. Now, if you take that same survey, the first month, it’s 30 percent—
—so it goes from 30 percent to 90 percent. We use the example of the rosebud—you know, a rosebud, by itself, hasn’t even bloomed; but it needs the right soil, it needs the right sun, it needs the rain—the right amount of rain. If it doesn’t get one of those three, then it can wither and die on the vine; but given the right soil, which could be a senior living community or staying at home—the right care and the right social activities—they blossom. That’s what you see if the needs of a senior are met the right way.
Dennis: One of the things that you continue to underscore and heighten is the respect for your parent. I really like that because, as they grow old, there is a good bit of aging that robs a person—who has been very vigorous, maybe a hard worker, very smart—where they are experience losses.
They need an adult child to respect who they are and also give them a voice. Speak to that concept of giving your parents a voice as you talk about these issues.
Jim: It’s important because they’re connection points. Oftentimes, a connection point can be the personal experience. As I always use the phrase, “You taught me,” because if it’s the “You taught me,” it’s the lesson you learned from your parent. Now, what you’re doing is exercising that lesson: “You taught me to care. You taught me to respond. Now, what I want to do is recognize the need; and then let’s talk about the decision. Let’s not just sit there and have the elephant in the room. Let’s really sit down and talk about this.”
As Bob’s story was with his mother, the key to that successful aging was timing. She made the decision at the right time to move in. The worst thing is when it’s a crisis—
—to either bring in home healthcare in a crisis situation, because you have a crisis and someone else comes into the home—or likewise, if you go into a hospital and then move into a senior living community—it’s a crisis environment. What you don’t want is that situation. You want it to be one where it could be handled the appropriate way.
Bob: We had an interview, a number of years ago, with a medical doctor, who cared for the elderly. He was in his early 70s, and he was deciding it was time for him to pull back on his practice. He lived in Chicago, but he was moving to Connecticut. I said: “What’s in Connecticut? A new practice opportunity? What are you…?”
He said, “Well, our daughter lives there.” He said: “My wife and I have recognized that we need to pick the place where we are going to retire and where we’re going to live out our last days.
“We want to be near our daughter; but we also want to move there at a time when we can still form relationships and community with people our own age rather than trying to move there in our 80s, when it’s harder to do that.” He said, “We want to get to our 80s with our friends, not be trying to make friends in our 80s.”
Jim: That is so important; because if seniors are in their home—and the natural progression is one of the parents pass away—so, now, you have your loved one in a home/their house—that could be a home where you grew up in. Then, all of a sudden, there is a concern—there is a concern about: “Yes; the yard needs to be mowed. Well, who is going to mow it?” You have to put yourself in the mind of your parent of: “I’ve always been doing this and handling this before”—but now, it becomes a question of—“If I’m going to have a plumber come in and work on this, well, then, son, I would like you over here.”
What you find is what I call the work call—it could be you’re sitting at your desk and you get a call from a loved one, saying, “There’s a workman here.”
Then, all of a sudden, there is concern of “Well, are they going to do it right?” Then, the last thing is the money side of it. Likewise, a lot of these calls will hit women at work or women that are raising children at home at a point in time where the frustration level and the reaction can be very brief and not the right way.
I always say, “You find out real quick that the home itself can really be almost a prison,” because of the isolation that is there / that occurs; and then it’s a negative spiral. Once that negative spiral begins, you have to recognize it; and it’s a loving thing to do to step in.
Dennis: I wish, when I was kind of growing up—and I’m speaking now of truly growing up in my 20s, 30s, and 40s, when my mom was getting older—someone would have equipped me to know how to think about my mom with respect, like you’re talking about. You’re really embodying, as you’re talking about caring for the elderly, 1 Corinthians 13, which says: “Love is patient and kind.”
My mom was amazingly patient and kind with me. As she grew older, she really needed me to be patient and kind with her. “Love does not envy or boast. It’s not arrogant or rude.” I don’t remember my mom doing that; but I do remember my need, as an adult, to be kind to her and not rude back to her if she was a little sharp with me. “It does not insist on its own way. It is not irritable or resentful,”—that means we have to forgive.
Some, who are listening to our broadcast—this conjures up all kinds of emotions toward parents because, now, they’re having to take care of them; and they didn’t feel like they were taken care of when they were a child or a young person, growing up.
Jim: That’s why we often say, “You need to recognize anxiety, not only in your loved one’s decision, but also in the process that you”—your listeners and we all—“go through as adult children,” because the anxiety is on both sides.
Oftentimes, we go to the Bible. When you look at Philippians, which I just love, where it says, “Be anxious for nothing but in prayer and supplication with thanksgiving make your requests known to God,”—it’s interesting because you say, “…with thanksgiving…— and it’s the embracing of: “This is a need in my parents’ life. This is a time when I can really give to them,”—and not monetarily but support—“and I can do it in a way where I can use the biblical standards that I’ve been taught,” or “…I have learned how to care for them.”
Dennis: And I just want to finish this passage here [in 1 Corinthians 13], because it speaks to the issue of the heart with adult children. “It’s not irritable or resentful, does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things,”—that means it shoulders the weight / there is a lot of weight to shoulder in old age. “It believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”
I just want to encourage our listeners, whether you are caring for an elderly parent yet or if it’s in the future, to begin thinking about this and maybe check out some of the resources that are available—we’ll list a few—and find the best way to provide compassionate, loving, godly care for your parents.
Bob: Yes; we’ve got links on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com to help you with that. Again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com.
I want to mention a book written by a guest we’ve had on FamilyLife Today, Dr. John Dunlop. He wrote a book called Wellness for the Glory of God. It’s a book that talks about how we can be ready for the aging process in our own lives—how we can be alert to the changes that are going to take place as we age. Dr. Dunlop spent years of practice as a gerontologist and worked with patients who were aging. His book, I think, is very helpful; and it may be something for those of us—who are over 40, over 50, over 60—this would be a good book to read so that we can be wise about how we plan and steward our elder years. Again, the book is available, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com—you can get more information there. We also have links to the interviews we did with Dr. Dunlop if you’d like to listen to those.
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Now, tomorrow, we’re going to talk again about our aging parents—this time, talking about memory loss—how can we tell if forgetfulness is something we should be concerned about or just a normal part of aging? Jim Stroud will again be with us tomorrow. I hope you can be back as well.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas; a Cru® Ministry.
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