A Senior’s Right to Choose

I often write about the things that we can do to help our parents manage the changes in their care needs.  There are always many things that can be recommended to ease some of the challenges that a senior might face and we should surely be on the lookout for any signs that somebody may be failing on their own.

But one thing that I feel equally strongly about and need to express is the right of all seniors to self-determination.

Though I may have lots of ideas about how I think things should be done and how best to do them, as long as my parent is able to still make decisions, I must allow them to do so.  I have said before about safety being one of the measures for how forcefully to intervene.  But baring dire safety issues, Mom and Dad still get to choose.

They still get to take a risk and potentially make a poor choice.  It is not our job to swoop in and take over their lives without regard for their wishes.  Just as we have the choice to jump off a high place with a rubber band strapped to our ankle or not (called bungee jumping and in my mind a questionable decision), our parents still get to make what we might consider questionable decisions as well.

It’s a fine line to walk.  Forcing an issue can turn your discussions into battles which turn out not to be very good for anybody.  Sometimes we have to allow them their right to fail and even have a crisis before they can make a change.

And that’s hard to watch if you love them.  If you know they have the potential to fall and hurt themselves, your first instinct (almost like being the parent) is to protect them.  But as we learn in raising our children, we can’t always protect them.  Sometimes they need to make the ‘mistake’ in order to learn the lesson.  Sometimes we just have to hope that the lesson is not too painful or catastrophic.

When my parents decided to add-on to their house so that they could stay in it longer as they aged (first floor living rather than go to a continuing care community) they asked each of the children what we thought.  My response was that it is totally your decision!  At that point they were not a safety risk (we were not worried about them burning down the house, etc) and they were still managing pretty well on their own; this would actually make things easier on them.

The truth was, we could not know at that point how long this would allow them to stay in their home, but it was still their decision.  They could have added on and a month after construction was completed, something could have happened to force them to move out.  You just don’t know!

As it turned out, they spent about 5 years with their first floor set-up before we had to move my father into a facility.  And adding on a first floor laundry, bedroom and bathroom (with walk in shower) has allowed my mother to continue to do quite well in the home alone.

Because of safety issues, I have to admit that my father did not get as much input into the decision to place him in a home.  When he was at his most cognizant, he was able to understand and acknowledge that things had gotten to be too much for my mother to handle at home, but he has not loved the decision.  It was a decision made based on the well-being of both parents and their needs.  And ultimately, it was left for my mother to decide.  If she had insisted on taking Dad home after his hospital stay, we would have worked to figure things out.  That her decision was what we all felt was right did lesson the ordeal of making the transition however.

Though Dad now has limited capacity to use good judgment and make sound decisions, I believe we still need to allow him to make some choices.  When he gets up to use the bathroom, he usually forgets to call for help or to take his walker with him due to his dementia (and just maybe a little stubbornness!).  Because of this he is at a higher risk for falls; but, he has the right to fall!  As there are fewer and fewer things that he has much control and choice over, I want him to continue to be able to get up and move around when he wants to do so.

And yes, it might be that he will fall one day and break a hip; but if that happens, then we will deal with that as well.  I’m not willing to limit his mobility to prevent a possible injury; after all, this is the guy that busted his face up playing ‘touch’ football in his day!  That was a choice…….

Mom is doing OK.  We check in with her regularly to see if there are any choices that she would like to make differently.  She fluctuates between being happy to stay in the house for now and giving it all up for something else (see ‘Home A-Lone(ly)’….the conversation goes one way and then another…..).  Of course, when she decides to get out that will be the right time for her.

Remember, your parents deserve to live life with their dignity intact.  Of course, if they are struggling, talk with them.  Offer help.  Step in and do some things to assist them.  But remember that they have the right to say no and to disagree with your recommendations.  Remember to treat them like your parents and to honor their wishes for as long as safely possible.

On the journey with you…….Kathy

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7 responses to “A Senior’s Right to Choose

  1. Wonderful post and very true. I’m going to reblog it on my site. I hope that is OK!

    Thanks for the words of wisdom!

  2. Reblogged this on Caring for Our Parents and commented:
    Here’s a great blog regarding decision making. Very true words of wisdom. Thanks Kathy!

  3. Kathy, this is such an important reminder that caregiving needn’t be controlling. From my own experience, I know that the impulse is to just jump in and try to fix everything that you see needs fixing,
    What I tried to do was put myself in my parents’ shoes; when I was younger and was bent on doing something that frightened or dismayed them (going to art school instead of university, moving out on my own with a freelancer’s income to support me), did they let me live my own life? Yes, and the experiences I had were invaluable and core to the adult I became.
    They deserved the same respect from me, despite my fear and dismay at what their choices might mean.
    The choices were hard, and not everything turned out the way I would have liked, but we gave our parents the dignity and respect they’d earned from us. I wouldn’t change it; the right to self-determination is not something one should ever age out of.

    • I’m glad to hear, given the heart-breaking story that you have begun to share with us on your blog, that you still know that you would not have changed a thing. Allowing our parents to maintain their dignity is far more important than our feeling ‘comfortable’ with the choices. Thanks for continuing to share your insights about the ways that your family found to provide care. Despite my professional background in caring for the elderly I continue to get reassurance from folks like you while I am making this ever changing journey with my parents….I’m sure there is more to follow on that subject since Mom has announced that she feels she needs to get out of her house….sigh….Stay tuned!

  4. My parents live independently. My mother has dementia and is very difficult to live with. My siblings and I are trying to get my father’s license taken away. He will be 90 in August and he sees no problem with his driving. I feel sneaky going behind my father’s back to somehow get him retested. But, I have to remember that I want him to be safe and I want the other drivers that encounter him to be safe. This is so hard—being a parent to my parents!

    • The driving thing is so tricky! I finally had to send a letter to my father’s physician to describe what the issues were and ask for his assistance. At the very next visit the doctor told my Dad that he could not drive anymore. I knew that I would never forgive myself (nor would my Dad forgive himself) if he hurt or worse killed somebody else on the road. Good luck to you! I know you will find the right way to make the transition.

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