I officially became a senior this past year (as defined in Canada as 65 years of age)! I do not feel at all like I think a senior should feel. But nevertheless, I now can obtain discounts at the movies and at some drugstores on particular days. These are small delights for this aging milestone.
But the most curious developmental aspect of becoming a senior was the realization that I am now a Senior Daughter of a Senior Father (88 years).
Over the past couple of weeks, I experienced being a Senior caring for a Senior while my Senior Father and his Senior 84 year old wife (of eight years) were guests in my home. I was keen and willing to care for them and transport them to their various medical/dental appointments. I believed that I could easily implement some of the skills that I often use in my clinical practice when working with the elderly and their families. But alas, for the most part, these skills escaped me.
In my recent ‘at home experience’ of elder care, the huge difference was that I was caring for my Senior Father, not a client. I have a lifetime of history, patterns of interaction that are quite entrenched; mingled with strong affection for my Father. The other qualities that I wanted to express during my Father’s stay included kindness, patience, and thoughtfulness. I wish I could say that I demonstrated these qualities everyday but I cannot. Some days these qualities came easily, other days not so much.
I also found myself wanting to have a break from caring for my Father but guilt held me back. Did my Father also want a break from me sometimes? I blamed the close living quarters, tiredness, or was it just that two senior generations living together, even for a short time, are just not a “fit” in our Canadian culture. Is this what the need for respite feels like, for both a Senior Daughter and Senior Father?
Some days I relished having my Father in my home to benefit from his wisdom and experience. I took advantage of this opportunity by asking for his advice on various matters in my life but then would quickly fall into the trap of being too directive and instructive about his diabetic diet, his exercise, even his life.
No wonder my instructions were met by a wall of humor or defensiveness to deflect my intrusions into his life. Where was my real respect for his wisdom? Is this how Senior Daughters express their concern and love for the lack of a perceived healthy lifestyle of their Senior Parent(s). How quickly I forgot their many years of life experience and decision making that brought them to this moment.
These few weeks of living with my Senior Father and his wife was but a drop of time in all of our lives but many life lessons were learned. The main lesson for me was that the elderly like my Father and his wife who continue to live on their own with minimal assistance, need encouragement, admiration, respect and a cheering club for how they continue to manage their lives.
So I am left believing that I am under skilled (but willing to learn) as a young Senior Daughter but well skilled as a Health Professional to assist other seniors caring for seniors! I hope there will be a more of a professional/personal balance soon.
Perhaps it would also have helped if I had reviewed the recent educational DVD that Maureen Leahey and I just produced entitled: Tips and Microskills for Interviewing Families of the Elderly. In this DVD Maureen interviews a brother and sister in their early 70’s regarding the care they provide to their 99 years old mother.
Maureen and I offer our ideas on the DVD about how to engage with family members of the elderly, obtain a brief relevant history and assess one of the most common experiences of seniors caring for seniors, that is, caregiver burden and the impact on personal and family life. Maureen does a lovely job of responding to their suggestions about their mother’s care. You can view a sample streaming video of this DVD by just clicking on this link.
Are your skills in balance between caring for your elderly parents (if you have that privilege) and caring for the families of the elderly in your professional practice?