Wed | Mar 21, 2018

When the parent becomes the child

Published:Saturday | April 16, 2016 | 12:00 AMCecelia Campbell Livingston

But if any widow has children or grandchildren, they must first learn to practice piety in regard to their own family and to make some return to their parents; for this is acceptable in the sight of God. 1 Timothy 5:4.

Growing up, children enjoy their parents' care and the older they get, they look forward to the day when they can be active grandparents in their children's lives.

In a perfect world, the script would go according to that plan, but unfortunately, life can throw some curve balls taking with it situations people are not quite prepared for.

There may come a time when the roles are reversed and it will see people moving from being the child, to now taking on the parental role for your parent.

Many children having parents suffering from debilitating illnesses such as Alzheimer often get impatient with them, seeing it as a trial rather than an opportunity to give back the love and care that was invested in them.

It is not an easy task dealing with a parent who is behaving like a spoilt child, throwing tantrums, and sometimes even being disrespectful.

How do you cope in this situation and still treat parents with the love and care they deserve?

Family and Religion sought answers from Dr Chloe Morris, former lecturer/administrator at Mona Aging and Wellness Centre, who specialises in social work and works with families with specific interest in older persons, she admits that although the situation is heartbreaking, you must be prepared.

"It is heartbreaking. (One) can never be prepared enough. You will have to make decisions that break the heart, but must be done for the protection, safety, and love for the parent," she said.

According to Morris, everything should be done with the United Nations Principles of Care in mind - a resolution adopted by the General Assembly in December 1991 by the United Nations Human Rights regarding specific care meted out to older persons.

Morris said one should seek to maintain their dignity, independence, participation, self-fulfilment, care, and dignity.

"It is important to have them included in decision making for as long as they are able to, such as not changing their doctor for someone new just because it is easier for you. It may be better to bear a little ill convenience and have them comfortable and relaxed with someone who they have been intimately related with for a long time," she pointed out.

It is also important said Morris, to get all members of the family on board, explaining to them all you know about the physical and psychological conditions, and further suggesting that they seek to be educated also.

"Make arrangements to speak to the doctor, or other specialists who could guide the learning process. Seek out support groups, never feel that you are alone, there are others who are having or would have had similar situations. It makes a world of a difference when you interact with someone who can really empathise with you," she said.

It is inevitable that there will be moments of frustrations as Alzheimers patients can be a handful to manage. But, according to Morris, children should remember that their 'difficult' parent is not being spiteful and wicked, but that they are sick.

She warned that there should be no anger directed at the sick parent as neither anger nor force will help. Instead, according to her, gentle persuasion should be applied.

"Don't argue with them, there is no point in contradicting what they say, you will eventually get upset and they may get angry, no one benefits from this debate," warns Morris.

Another no-no is ensuring no punishment is meted out. Morris said punishment is a waste of time and abuse that they will not understand. "Remember we say too much with our actions, facial expressions, and body language."

Morris also points out that when dealing with an Alzheimers patient it is important to ensure that the environment is safe as she said this will give 'breathing time' knowing there is nothing at hand to injure your parent.

Morris said some of the signs that accompany the onset of Alzheimers includes short-term memory loss -forgetting new information, asking for the same information over and over, confusion with time or place, forgetting where they are and how they got there, and they may stop in the middle of a conversation and have no idea how to continue.