Listening is best way to help aging parents

Q: After months of cajoling, begging and convincing we have finally talked my husband’s father into moving from his old house into our spare room.

He was determined to stick it out on his own but since his wife died, he has struggled to look after himself properly.

We know that he is not taking all of his medication, that he is not keeping the house clean, and that his meals often are fast foods.

Hopefully, we can help him get on top of all that once he moves into our place. That is not likely to be hard. He is a great old country gentleman. All of us get along with each other very well and I am looking forward to listening to more of those interesting tales he puts together about the good old days.

It should be fun. But I do have a concern. My parents by comparison to him are relatively young and healthy. He isn’t and I am not sure that I always understand him. I don’t want to intrude but I would like to be more sensitive to whatever problems he might have as he journeys through his aging process. For what should I be watching when he is living in our house? And what best can I do to help him when he needs it the most?

A: I do not know your father-in-law so I am limited in whatever advice I might offer.

People who are aging can struggle with any number of different problems, including hearing loss, problems with vision and arthritis and/or other crippling moments for mobility.

Many of them fall a lot. They just cannot get a better sense of balance. Some struggle with short-term memory loss, others with serious medical concerns and still others with either emotional or social psychiatric disorders. Your best bet is to build a working relationship with your father-in-law’s family doctor to help you figure all of this out.

With your father-in-law’s permission, the physician can help you to understand whatever it is that is peculiar to Dad.

If your father-in-law is like many men his age, he will struggle to open up to you about what might be bothering him at any given time. That is not necessarily a signal of distrust or any other concerns he might have about you. This is mostly his fear that he will become a burden to you.

Don’t forget that for many years — for most of his life, actually — your father-in-law was fiercely independent. His wife may have taken control of things around the kitchen, but he was in charge of the rest of the farm and much of what he did, he did on his own. He was so proud.

Now, as he gets older, and he needs more help just to survive, he might find it difficult to lean on either you or someone else in the family. Some of our seniors will sit in pain for days rather than ask for help to resolve what is bothering them.

There is no way around this one. All you can do is learn to listen to your father-in-law as carefully as you can so that you can pick up when he is hinting that something is not working as well as it could be.

Ignore nothing, listen effectively and help him where he will let you and the two of you can expect some wonderful days the week after next.

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