I’m an OT and they don’t listen to me either
The hardest part of helping an elderly parent who may be experiencing illness or a condition that impacts on their independence is getting them to acknowledge that they have a condition that needs to be properly addressed and managed, such as;
- Decreased mobility and balance
- Arthritis/joint deterioration
- Reduced upper or lower limb range of motion
- Hearing loss
- Decreased vision
- Memory loss/decreased cognition
- Heart disease
- Rheumatoid arthritis
It is often equally as difficult to get their wife or husband (who is now predominantly caring for them) to acknowledge they need time out, aren’t managing well in their carer role or are experiencing health issues of their own.
I am sure there are plenty of parents out there that are happy to have the help and support of their children – but not mine.
My father was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes twenty years ago. Having studied nutrition as well as occupational therapy, I attempted to educate my father on the seriousness of the condition and importance of stabilising blood sugar to reduce need for insulin injections in the future, the importance of adjusting his diet and being active. I provided (and made) diabetic friendly recipes, encouraged small but frequent meals as opposed to large infrequent ones and begged him to cease having 2-3 slices of white bread smothered in butter every meal…. and let’s not even go into the amount of salt added!
I also attempted to summarize what diabetes was in language he would understand and the negative consequences continuous high blood sugar would have on his health. I attempted not to be an alarmist – not to lecture him, but to give him the information he needed to make what I felt were better decisions in regard to his health.
Well of course he ignored me. He wasn’t concerned. My caring was interpreted as interfering and well, “what did I know anyway?” He reacted like I was attempting to rob him of any enjoyment in life. My good intentions resulted in arguments, despair and frustration on my part because I couldn’t prevent what I knew what would happen if he didn’t change his habits. But in the end – like most children – I opted for peace and dropped the subject (it didn’t stop me from putting diabetic magazines and books in his Christmas stockings though!
Many years later during one of our telephone conversations, Dad said he found this wonderful doctor who specialized in Diabetes. He then proceeded to enlighten me with information such as:
“Did I know that continuous high blood sugar can cause vision loss?”
“‘Did I know that it was his diabetes causing numbness in his feet?”
“Did I know that he was at a higher risk of heart disease?” Blah blah….
Oh – just to make me feel truly unappreciated – he then said his doctor was so amazing she even gave him some great free recipe books and dietary tips.
Of course, from that point forward mum and dad, during that week at least, followed a relatively low GI diet.
So what is the moral to this story? A parent will rarely listen to their child in regard to their health and wellbeing. They will always see us as their baby daughters or sons. They will not want to worry us or will not want us to see themselves as ‘getting old’ or less valuable. In a way – I get that – when you sit in someone’s shoes for a while it is easier to see where they are coming from, which takes the sting out of them ignoring you a little.
So if you ever have a concern for your parent in regards to past or newly diagnosed conditions, get a second party to intervene – someone who is not family, who can build a good rapport and has the knowledge and expertise to assist. Your elderly parents are much more inclined to voice any health and wellbeing issues with a specialist or friend than take advice from a family member. That is where an OT may help.
My parents rarely listened to me and they live far away from me in Wellington (regional NSW), so when I think they may need a little intervention or I need to be reassured that they are managing ok, I contact their [now] OT in the area to ‘just drop in to say hi’. Mum and dad did not know I paid her to do it, they enjoyed her company and would listen to her advice more than my own (despite us having the same profession).
This arrangement worked for me, gave me peace of mind, reduced family arguments and gave mum and dad the support that they needed but would never ask for. I didn’t feel it was dishonest as they felt comfortable with their own OT and I didn’t interfere with any decision making or made any special requests of the OT.
All I did was pay for a service that would benefit my parents and the reassurance that someone was there to give them advice and support if and when their needs changed. What started out as infrequent visits turned into regular ones but that is another story…