Grandmother in Old-Age Home

Hi, this is Leonard Carr, in-house psychologist of Infusion Radio. I’m answering the email from Craig who asks whether to put his elderly grandmother in an old parents’ home.

Craig, the first question that you have to ask yourself in deciding what to do about the care of your grandmother is what does your grandmother want. People with elderly parents often make the mistake of assuming that because someone is elderly, they’re either stupid or infantile or senile. It’s kind of like the situation where someone shouts at a blind person as if the blind person happens to be deaf as well. We tend to assume that because someone has a disability in one area or a difficulty that they’re challenged in all other areas as well. So just because your grandmother is ill and because she’s elderly and maybe frail doesn’t mean that she shouldn’t have a say over what happens in her life or that she’s no longer capable of having a say over what happens in her life.

A mature person who has life experience beyond your own should be given the dignity to be able to participate in a meaningful way in decisions made about her life. It’s possible that an elderly person who is ill might be overly optimistic about the possibilities of recovery or at least of full recovery.

Young people, on the other hand, might be afraid of the looming responsibility of having to look after a frail elderly person and might want the reassurance of knowing that their loved one is in a safe environment where they’re properly cared for. So the younger person might be overly pessimistic about the prospects for the elderly person’s recovery.

The truth is that older people may take longer to recover but nobody really knows how someone is going to recover and what they will be capable of once they have recovered. Your task really is to help your grandmother to achieve a full recovery first and the most important thing you can do in order to help her is to keep her spirits up, to keep her optimism and her hope going so that she has the will to make a full recovery. The danger is always that if you present an elderly person with a pessimistic view, or if while they are ill, you start talking about something like an old parents’ home, they might lose hope, they might feel defeated, they might start to live in fear and that is going to stand in the way of their making a full recovery. Obviously, if a person loses hope, if their spirit feels defeated and they can’t make a full recovery, then the pessimism of the loved ones, which led them to bring up the subject of an old parents’ home in the first place, creates a self-fulfilling prophecy where the old person doesn’t recover, not because they weren’t going to recover in the first place but rather because they no longer have the will to recover.

So it’s very important that you don’t even initiate the subject of what’s going to happen to your grandmother after she has recovered until she’s made a full recovery. Certainly, the subject should not be brought up while she is in hospital. The key here is for everybody who is participating in the decision-making process to carefully and scrupulously and honestly examine their own motives and intentions in order to make sure that everybody really has your grandmother’s best interest at heart and that no one acting out of fear that they’re going to be landed with the responsibility or that they’re gong to have to take care of the physical needs of an old person which not everybody can cope with. Put your focus on your mother and not act out on their own motives and intentions if those are not truly in the best interest of your grandmother.

So just to reiterate, the most important thing is that you give your grandmother hope that you build her spirit, that you help her to retain her optimism so that she has the energy and the will and intention to make a full recovery. And then once she has made a full recovery, give her autonomy over her life where she can participate in the decision about what’s best for her. If she’s not managing to live independently, she’ll know it and she’ll be the first to call for help. But no one should impose on her what they think is best and take away her independence and her dignity.

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