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Real Life Story – Avoid Over-Parenting your Parent

One of my prospective clients asked me if any of my placements had ever not worked out. I responded, “Yes, only once–early on in the years I have been conducting placements.” Here’s what happened.

My client was a baby boomer whose part-time occupation required intermittent air travel during the week. Her mother, who had mid/latter stages of Alzheimer’s and ambulated with a walker and a wheelchair, was living with her. My client’s mom had a part-time caregiver. My client expressed that she wanted to work full-time, and that taking care of her mother was physically and psychologically exhausting. She wanted to place her in a community rather than have a caregiver on a 24 hour basis. Yet she told me that no one could take care of her mother better than she. In retrospect, that should have been a red flag to me.

I noticed that during my assessment the daughter gave her mom her undivided attention; i.e., bringing her water, placing the glass in her hand when she was capable of grasping it on her own, answering every call of her name and repetitious questions, and incessantly checking her diaper. The daughter also told me her mother’s bedroom was on the second floor and she was assisting her up the stairs on a daily basis. Since her mom was still ambulatory to some extent, the stairs presented a falling hazard..

I recommended three nursing home communities that had special care units for Alzheimer’s residents. After touring them with 2 siblings who lived out of town, my client procrastinated for three months about making a decision. One morning she decided suddenly to pack her mom and move her. The community she chose was small, with a 20 bed Alzheimer’s unit. The staffing was excellent with additional activity aides who worked one on one with the residents in addition to providing group activities.

After a 30 day stay, the Admissions Director called me and said the daughter abruptly took her mother home. As it turned out, the daughter was spending 6-8 hours at the nursing home with her mom when she wasn’t working. She sat with her at every meal and supervised the dining room staff. When offerings were made to work one on one with the activity aides, she insisted on staying with her mother. If the call light wasn’t answered in five minutes, the daughter stood out in the hallway. She corrected the nurse assigned to the special care unit, causing an otherwise pleasant man to snap. As her siblings stated, “She wouldn’t let it work.”

This observation is crucial: She wouldn’t let it work. Certainly, I would never criticize a daughter or son who shows such daily devotion to an aging parent. It is a rare individual who would or could spend 6 to 8 hours a day at his or her parent’s nursing home, in addition to keeping up with a career and home of one’s own. What was problematic in this case was a client crossing the line from reasonable questions and concerns into unreasonable expectations, demands for instantaneous staff response, and micro-manager-style intrusions upon the community’s day to day operations. I applaud adult offspring who are devoted to their parents’ care, and I encourage clients to be smart consumers, unafraid to ask tough questions when necessary. But here was a case of a daughter becoming something of an overprotective parent, not ready to step back and allow her mother, facility staff, and fellow residents get to know one another. Sometimes, TIME is one of the biggest remedies of all.

Contact Andrea Donovan if you are looking for help in placing your loved one.

andrea-donovan100Andrea Donovan Senior Living Advisors
361 Nuttall Road Riverside, IL 60546 708-442-7174 708-415-2934 (cell)