Recently I received a call from Michelle, an exasperated adult daughter asking if there was any legal way to get her elderly father to stop verbally abusing her and to accept a caregiver so she could move out of his house. She had moved in to help him after her mom passed, but was now trapped as he refused to move to assisted living or accept live-in help.
Michelle started to cry, saying she had just called an agency where a man “laughed at me,” saying her father could do whatever he wished in his own home short of physically abusing her. Since I have survived the same situation with my own father, I knew the misery she was going through.
It reminded me of a call I received from another adult child, Paul, begging for my advice on the same situation. He was at the hospital with his parents. His elderly father had accidentally burned the house down. He’d tried for years to convince them to move to assisted living or accept a caregiver, and a couple times even had everything lined up, but they’d cancel at the last minute. I felt so bad for him and suggested it might be best to wait until his parents recovered from the smoke inhalation before trying again. But Paul (a successful 60-year old businessman) burst into tears with, “I can’t wait! My father already hired the contractor to rebuild the house. Jacqueline, my parents are 90 and 92!”
I wish I had the iron-clad solution to this problem to help so many people. Since our civil rights are (fortunately) very strong in the United States, unless an individual is legally proven incompetent (a difficult process, but especially hard at the beginning stages of dementia), they cannot be forced to do/not do anything against their will – unless, of course, it’s something illegal.
The best way to increase the odds of a parent accepting help later in life is by starting end-of-life conversations early, and long before health and rational thinking start to deteriorate. When a parent’s “Third Act” wishes have been discussed openly for years (and documented with living wills, trusts, durable powers of attorney for Health and Financial, etc.), when the time comes, the transition is less traumatic. (3 Must-Have Legal Documents for Elderly Healthcare)
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