More often than not, the calls we receive in our office concerning a long term care crisis are made by one or more of the adult children of the senior in failing health. We ask whether there is a power of attorney in place which will legally permit a family member to act for the senior, which will allow us to guide those families.
However, we also know that just because the adult child has the legal ability to act for the parent doesn’t necessarily mean that child is emotionally ready to step forward. A role reversal is necessary. Without it, the POA is useless because the child is powerless to act. The parent, in many respects, must become the child and the child the parent.
When Dad says, after nearly starting a fire in his home or falling down the stairs for the third time, that he’s ok and sees no reason he can’t continue to live alone, it’s often difficult for the children to step up and make the tough decisions. So often they are waiting for Dad to say “it’s time”. For many parents that day will never come.
It becomes more difficult when the parent expresses anger and pushes back. Independence is something we value greatly as Americans, as individuals. But just as we step in when our young children assert independence before they are mature enough to handle it, we must also step in when our parents no longer have the capacity to maintain their independence.
Some of the calls we’ve received are about situations that, when I hear them I think could have been prevented if only someone had stepped in earlier. An 80 year old with dementia can’t recognize life’s dangers and make appropriate decisions any more than an 8 year old can. Of course, it isn’t as easy to step in for the senior as it is for the minor. But, the stakes are just as high – in some cases life and death.
No one will tap you on the shoulder to tell you that “tomorrow your dad will fall down the stairs so you better put safety measures in place today”. Don’t wait for Mom to tell you she’s ready to make a move if you see that her health is at risk now. I’m not suggesting that every child will be successful, but many will succeed if only they try.