When it comes to caring for aging loved ones, for most, there are a myriad of very stressful discussions and decisions that seem to involve a trade-off between safety and quality of life. Typically, the children or spouse falls on the safety side, while the loved one with the health issues, falls on the quality of life side.

The “Right” Answer

One of the key sources of the stress these decisions generate is the idea that there is a “right” answer, if we can only find it. In the vast majority of situations, however, there is no “right” answer, just the trade-offs different options present. Reframing these decisions as trade-offs, and recognizing that different people will credibly see things differently, is key to prioritizing and moving forward.

Almost all the families I work with are trying to figure out how to help their aging parents deal with similar decisions:

  • Should our parents get on a plane to go to Florida or Arizona this winter where Covid-19 vaccination rates and controls are much lower than Ontario; or stay at home bored, far less social and afraid to go out on the icy sidewalks?
  • Should we move to a condo or retirement facility; or stay in the home and outfit it to meet the needs of aging?
  • Should we get professional caregivers or try to have family provide what is needed?
  • Should the caregivers visit for a few hours each day or do we get live-in care?
  • Should we use a firm to help manage the caregivers and the requirements of being an employer; or likely pay less and hire privately and manage the care team ourselves?
  • How hard do I push my parent to eat and drink what they should versus what they want?

Having Tough Discussions Using Patience and Consideration

Discussing these issues within a family can be tough, but needs to be done. It may be helpful to consider the following before promoting your point of view too adamantly:

  1. If you need to be persistent because the risks or concerns are very real and very serious, focus on: i) reducing the risk of falls; ii) curbing behaviours that put more than just your loved one at risk; iii) paying attention to medication adherence; and iv) making decisions now for things that will be needed once your loved one may not be able to make the decision themselves. Everyone benefits from getting their “legal” house in order sooner than later, but keep in mind that it often takes many months to organize – so be patient.
  2. People rarely change because you ask them or tell them to – especially those who have already accomplished so much in life doing it “their way”. These individuals typically need to get there themselves – accelerated by some well meaning pressure or, unfortunately, a dangerous event. They rarely make changes until they’re ready.

Finding A Way To Respect Choices

For many, as they age, quality of life, dignity and independence outweigh playing it safe. If you’re 70 or 80 or 90, especially given how Covid-19 has affected everyone’s quality of life, what do you think you would prioritize? If there is one thing that Covid-19 has revealed to me, it is that everyone, every family, every generation, has a different perspective on the level of risk they are prepared to take with their health. We may not agree with them, but we must find a way to respect their choices. Families are made out of well meaning people, doing the best they can to make tough decisions. So next time you find yourself arguing with your parent or sibling about making “the right decision”, remember to focus on the trade-offs not the right answer, and prioritize the things they value most.