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Carol Bradley Bursack, Published November 30 2013

Minding Our Elders: Mom needs more care than Dad can provide

DEAR CAROL: My mother has had multiple health problems for years, and Dad has cared for her. They have a close marriage so this arrangement has worked well, but now Dad is having heart problems and his arthritis is becoming severe. The family wants them to move to a very nice assisted-living facility where they can be together. Mom is fine with the idea of moving, but Dad is fighting it. You’d think he’d be happy to have less responsibility for Mom and more time for them to enjoy socializing when they feel like it, but he seems stuck. They have long-term health insurance and a decent retirement income. How do we convince him to move? – Darlene

DEAR DARLENE: Your dad has cared for your mom during years of health problems and he most likely still feels it’s his duty, and perhaps his pleasure, to take care of her. The idea that he may no longer be capable of providing all of the care his wife needs is something your dad could find hard to accept. Also, even though he’s probably not aware of it, part of his identity is likely wrapped up in being a caregiver. Making this change may represent a loss to him.

Somehow, your dad needs to understand that your mom’s need for care is bound to increase and eventually he’ll have a more difficult time caring for her alone. While you don’t want to focus too much on his medical issues, some mention of the fact that your mom would be crushed if she felt she was the cause of his health problems is appropriate. Try to emphasize that eventually your mom would have to move to a care center anyway, so moving together now would enable them to have more time to enjoy life and jointly explore the social aspects of their new home.

Try to make the point that if he moves with your mom now, he’ll be able to have more influence on her future care. Make certain that your dad knows how much the family appreciates what he’s done and will continue to do. You can use this opportunity to remind him that in assisted living he’ll have reliable backup without having to wait for another family member to be located.

Your dad may understand on one level that a move like this is best, but change is hard. He has to absorb and process this information.

Also, even if you are approaching your parents with this in a very respectful manner, he, like many aging adults, could resent the younger generation pushing for change. Perhaps your parents have a spiritual leader or a good friend who can help your dad accept the reasoning behind making this move. An outsider can often provide a fresh perspective on these issues because the person isn’t tied up in the family dynamic. While your dad may be acting stubborn, he loves your mom. I think time will convince him of the wisdom of this move, but with help from outside sources, he may come around more quickly.

Bradley Bursack is the author of a support book on caregiving and runs a website supporting caregivers at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached at carol@mindingourelders.com.