Dealing With Resistance to Change In Seniors
Put yourself in their shoes because you will be there someday. Your parents are losing bits of their independence day by day. They may not drive at night as well. They may not be able to go on the same hikes anymore. Any of these losses no matter how seemingly small, start to add up.
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Think about it: your roles are slowly reversing. The ones that raised you are now leaning on you more and more. And that’s painful for some seniors.
Ask questions. Rather than telling them what to do, ask for their opinions. “What is the best solution for your difficulty in driving at night?” Let them come up with the answers. If they act like there is no problem, cite specific examples and why it’s concerning. “Do you remember you almost ran into that pedestrian the other night?”
Be careful not to come across as condescending or to act as if you’re the parent. These conversations are hard enough.
Also, by asking questions, you are showing that you value their opinion. And them coming up with solutions is empowering.
Listen more than you talk. A good idea in almost any situation and particularly useful when with your parents. How will you know what is bothering them (and making them stubborn) if you don’t listen, no matter how trivial the conversation. They may be trying to tell you something without telling you. Sometimes you’ll have to read between the lines.
One stubborn parent affecting the other. If one parent is placing the other in danger, you need to address this, especially if the non-stubborn parent won’t speak up or has tried with no success.
Try to have your own solutions worked out before the conversation. So if Dad says, “How are we supposed to get around if I don’t drive at night?” You can say, “There is a local senior transport service that runs in the evenings.”
Spend more time with them. Sometimes your parents just want to see you more but don’t know how to say it. If your parents are not able to visit you for health or financial reasons, go to them. Visiting them once a year may mean you can count on your hands how many more times you’ll see them before they’re gone.
If face-to-face visits are hard because of geography, pick up the phone more often. Send more emails. They’re not as personal but it shows you’re thinking of them.
My Mom likes to text so I often send her pictures of what my wife and I are doing with a quick note. It takes all of two minutes, but we get to share our lives 1,500 miles apart.
Resistance to Change
Change is great when you’re young. It’s an adventure. If the change isn’t right, there’s time to reverse course. Still, much of change is unavoidable and inevitable, especially working in a corporation. If you want to get ahead, you need to embrace the change.
But when your career chasing is behind you, change can become tougher.
For seniors, change is often difficult. Resistance to change is easier. You’ve been changing all your life and now fully embrace a static life. Sometimes, however, you don’t have an option.
What if you are no longer able to care for yourself? Your family will probably recommend assisted living or a nursing home. Some seniors will find this unpalatable.
Why Do Seniors Resist Change?
It’s a cliché to say that all seniors resist change. But many do not like the reality of change for a number of reasons. Here are some you’ll find:
Fear of the loss of control
Fear of losing their independence
Fear of the unknown
Fear that their lives will not be the same
Depression from loss of a spouse
Feeling of isolation
Dealing with Resistance to Change
If your senior parents are resisting a change, you’ll need to try a variety of approaches. The earlier you can apply these, the better. Sometimes, however, you won’t be afforded the time because life happens.
Anticipate changes and prepare. Not long after my grandfather died several years ago, my parents brought up the idea of my grandmother living with them in the future. She wasn’t ready then (she resisted some) but she kept it in mind, even visiting my parents for a two-month “trial run” just to see how she liked it in Florida versus Arizona. They even visited several assisted living facilities in their city.
My parents didn’t pressure her. They simply let her know the offer was out there. I expect in the next few years, maybe sooner, she will need to take them up on it or consider assisted living.
What’s important is that the groundwork has been laid in advance. My grandmother has had time to think about the change and to prepare mentally for it. She also knows her options, which takes some of the pressure and uncertainty away.
You won’t always be able to anticipate life’s changes, but the more often you can, the less resistance to change you’ll likely get.
Listen. Let them explain why they don’t want to change. Even if you know that the change is inevitable. For instance, your Dad, who lives alone, has trouble with the activities of daily living (ADLs) like dressing, bathing, and eating. You’re thinking assisted living.
Dad has always been independent and thought of losing some of that, he says, will send him to an early grave. How about a compromise?
You live in another state so can’t take care of him. But there are home health agencies that can assist your Dad in-home. There is some change, but it’s not drastic.
How would you feel? Put yourself in their shoes. Doing so will give you a new perspective. It will let you see the situation from all angles.
For instance, Mom shouldn’t be driving. She’s a danger to herself and others because her reflexes have severely diminished over the last few years. But driving is her life. It allows her to visit friends, shop and remain independent and happy. Take this away suddenly and she’ll lose some of this even with alternatives like senior transport, public transportation, etc.
If your driving was taken away how would it affect your life? Think of everything you do that involves your car. Making a list makes this more concrete.
Talk often. Most likely, you’ll be having a conversation that involves change on the part of your parents. If the only time you talk is when there is a problem to be solved, you’ll likely have less success.
We get busy in our lives with our own families and responsibilities. But keeping the lines of communication open often means you’ll have a better feel for how your loved ones will respond to change. Your relationship will be stronger. And you won’t feel as guilty about discussing a major change.
Another advantage to talking often is you’ll know when the time is right for a change. If you begin to sense a pattern—say in their increasing forgetfulness—you can intervene before a major crisis.