• Jenni Perkins

Balancing dignity and risk - broaching the need for help with our parents as they age

How often do you hear friends say ‘I am worried about mum and dad but they won’t accept any help’?

One of the most difficult discussions to have with our parents is when we are worried they may not be coping at home and may need some help. Ideally, you have had a discussion early on about what your parent’s goals and plans are for when they are older – where they see themselves living; the sort of support they might need. If you haven’t had this discussion, maybe it is time to broach the subject now so that it might be easier in the future.

When my mother was starting to find the cleaning a chore and getting a bit forgetful, I remember chatting with her about the possibility of home help. Even though it was only $10 an hour, for someone of Mum’s generation, this still seemed an extravagance, and I couldn’t convince her that it was a good idea.

Eventually, I engaged in a slight deception, and arranged for the bills to come to me, telling Mum that it was fully subsidised by the government. Looking back now, it is clear that the early introduction of low-level care helped keep both of my parents at home, forging a supportive relationship with the local home care agency, and making it easier for them to be comfortable accessing more support as their needs changed.

I always felt slightly guilty undertaking the initial deception – until I talked with friends who had similar stories to tell and I realised I wasn’t alone.

Before having a conversation it is helpful to get family members on the same page so that everyone has a shared understanding. Do your homework to find out what home care resources are available. Begin with an open question – not “I think you need more help” – but – “how do you find keeping the garden up to date”, or “is there anything you would like some help around the house with”.

Don’t jump in with solutions straight off – listen first and respect your parent’s dignity.

Seek to understand the barriers to acknowledging the need for, and accepting help. They may be anxious that acknowledging the need for help is the first step to losing independence (you may counter this by suggesting that the right support at the right time will help to keep their independence, not take it away); they may treasure their privacy and not want strangers in their home; or are frugal and believe help an extravagance.

It can be helpful to frame it as doing a favour for you – that it is to help you stop worrying about your parents.

You also need to understand that there is a balance to be reached between your parents’ independence and autonomy and staying safe at home – getting a balance that everyone feels comfortable with means allowing your parents the dignity of risk.

For more tips, go to Live Well Longer - ageing at home free resource 'Signs More Help Might be Needed' .

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