Talking to your aging parents about the physical and mental losses they are experiencing is not easy. This is often because your parents are used to being “the parent” in the relationship, and you are used to being the child. As parents live into their advanced years, however, they are more likely to become dependent on their adult children. When this reversal of roles happens, it can put a strain on everyone involved.
One of the first things I ask my clients to do when they find themselves caring for an aging parent is to estimate their parent’s developmental age. This is different from their chronological age, which is the current year (2014) minus their birth year (1936). A person’s developmental age is the age that their current behaviour suggests that they are. Frequently, a client will respond that their parent is acting like they are 12, or 9, or even 7-years-old, which can come as a surprise.
For example, a daughter might find it difficult to tell her 83-years-old father that it is time for him to hang up his car keys because his reflexes have slowed down and his reaction times are too slow for him to be able to safely drive any longer. The daughter may not want to have this conversation because it means her father’s independence will be severely compromised. That fact does not mean the conversation should be put off, however.
It will be even more difficult for the daughter to have the conversation about driving with her father if her father becomes angry and tells her she is out of line. The father may even say that his physician told him he can keep driving for another two years. Recognizing when her father’s developmental age is much younger than his chronological age, however, may make it easier for the daughter to talk to her dad in a developmentally age-appropriate manner. In this example, it would not surprise me if the daughter said her father is acting as though he is 10-years-old much of the time.
In the above example, it may also be helpful if the daughter lines up alternative transportation for your father to rely on so he can remain as independent as possible after he relinquishes his car.
Dr. Patricia Turner, Registered Psychologist, Calgary, Alberta
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