August 2, 2012

The Talk

We know all about "The Talk." As kids growing up or as parents to our children, there were certain times when the passing on of basic information occurs. Do you remember these?


  • Stranger-Danger
  • Look both ways before crossing the street
  • The sex talk
  • The protect yourself during sex talk
  • The it's time for you to move out and get a job talk

A few days ago I had to have "The Talk" with my dad. No, it wasn't any of the ones listed above. It was the dreaded "it is time to move to an assisted living apartment and stop driving your car" talk. If you are involved in your parent's life, at some point you are likely to have to do this. It is not pleasant.


Since my mom died in December 2010 Dad has remained in the same independent living cottage they shared. It is spacious, with a full kitchen, living room, two bedrooms, two baths, a laundry and store room, and a back patio. There is a carport and some nice planting up to the front door.


The reality is he spends virtually all his time in the master bedroom or the second bedroom which became a den. He doesn't cook any meals so the kitchen is unused. He doesn't entertain or invite anyone into the home except Betty and me, so the living room remains empty. His days are spent sitting in an easy chair in the den reading, napping, and watching the evening news. He drives his car to the building where lunch is served - all of four blocks away, even though a tram can pick him up and take him whenever he wants to go.

He drives less than 50 miles a week, on average. As noted, the car isn't needed to get around the complex or to local shopping and doctor offices. There are shuttle buses that provide all transportation. But, like most of us, the car represents freedom and control. Even if he rarely goes anywhere, as long as he has car keys, the possibility exists.

After lunch during our last weekly visit we went back to his home and laid out the reality of the situation. After a few fainting instances, including one in front of staff at lunch, he was rapidly becoming a danger to himself and others. The rules of the community require someone in that situation to leave independent living.

What makes it tough is that physically he doesn't look 88. He doesn't use a walker or cane. He has a stoop but is still solid-looking. While his short term memory isn't very good and hearing even worse, he is still capable of caring for himself.

But, with random fainting episodes (likely due to dehydration and low blood pressure) he shouldn't be living alone and certainly shouldn't be driving. While the complex requires that he check in every morning, if he fainted during the day, struck his head, or broke something, it could be many hours before he was discovered.

In the assisted living section there are nurses that will check on him several times a day, be sure he is taking his pills, and encourage water consumption. He is also required to eat two meals a day at one of their dining rooms. This helps insure he is getting adequate nutrition. The one bedroom apartment will provide him the space he is already using, though I'm sure he will feel much more confined.

The car is actually the bigger issue. Someone with a documented history of fainting who continues to drive is open to lawsuits, even criminal charges, if he causes an accident that injures or kills someone else. With virtually all his transportation needs covered by the community there are only a handful of times he will be unable to go where he wants to. In those cases, Betty and I have volunteered to drive him.

Logically, every reason in the world exists for taking these steps now. Even so, having to shrink his world, take away many of his freedoms, and remove him from the home he shared with his wife for several years is not easy. Frankly, I suspect this move and the loss of the car will speed up his aging and possibly lead to depression. I have to trust that the nursing staff (all very special people) handle this every day and will do what is required to keep him as healthy and happy as possible.

Most of us have to have "the talk" with a parent or two sometime during our life. A hard as it is, I must remember my children  will have to do the same thing with me one of these days. I hope I remember how tough it is on everyone involved.


Note: from NextAvenue.org: Taking Away a Parent's Car Keys

32 comments:

  1. Of all the "Talks" that may be the hardest one to have. I was lucky, in that my dad was healthy and took care of my mom as she declined, and when he went at age 91, he went fast. They never moved into Independent or Assisted Living.

    But B's family has wrestled with the question. Her mom, at 96, is in Independent Living and thriving. Her late-husband's parents sold their house and went into Assisted Living. It's horribly expensive, though; don't know what they'll do if they live long enuf. to run through their assets.

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  2. It was the most difficult talk I have ever had- asking my dad for his keys. No one else was willing to do it.
    My family is in denial with my mom. She should not be driving either. I am actually hoping for a small fender bender to seal the deal so I can ask for the keys. Her place has a car w/ driver who can take you anywhere. I figure for the price of gas, maintenance and insurance- she can use the car four times a week- two hours at a time. They already have a free shuttle to the grocery.
    Have you thought about a scooter for the trips to the dining room? My mom goes more often now that she has one. If he can take care of himself- it might be a good way to go?

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    1. Where my dad lives has an on-demand tram service for transportation around the community and a regular series of shuttle bus trips to local stores and doctor complexes. He could take the taxi everywhere and still spend less than he does on insurance!

      Last night he met with one of the women who run the assisted living apartments and seems to be warming to the idea. We'll see.

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  3. RE: the fainting episodes. You may want to check potential side effects of his medication especially if one has been added recently. My FIL fainted several times after he was started on a new medication - it was one of the high probability side effects of the medication as it dropped blood pressure precipitously on standing up. Stopped the medication and no more fainting.

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    1. Thanks, Juhli. I think he hasn't changed meds but when we see him Sunday I'll ask. If he would just drink more water!

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  4. One of the hardest things you have probably ever had to do. But also probably one of the most loving things you have ever done...for your father and anyone else that may have been affected by his being behind the wheel. Deep down he understands, but it would be hard for you or I to step aside and give up our keys and move into assisted living. I will be keeping your father, Betty and you in my prayers as your father transitions.

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    1. Thanks for your thoughts and prayers Linda. When he and I talked on the phone yesterday he seemed to be more accepting of the situation. But, it is going to be a difficult next several months for all of us.

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  5. Hi, Bob. Listen, I know you're going to get all kinds of advice here but is it possible that your dad has sleep apnea? Might lead to fainting and depression. Just a thought. God bless him and you.

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    1. It is certainly possible. All his life he has been one of those people who could fall asleep in two minutes flat. But, once he is under closer supervision something like that will become obvious.

      Thanks Nik for your concern.

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  6. Thinking of you. I am so sorry for this. I am hoping that your dad will be happy to have more people around. Good food and lots of water can make such a difference.
    Sending my love,

    Barbara

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  7. Being around other people instead of being alone in his cottage for most of the day may be just what the doctor ordered. The head nurse says a lot of solitary people find the extra stimulation to be quite enjoyable.

    We will take a look at his new apartment this Sunday and start the process. In conversations with him the last two days he seems to be adjusting to the idea.

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  8. Bob,

    You have just described my current circumstances. It is so difficult to have this conversation, even though my 86 year old dad knows what needs to happen.

    Rick in Oregon

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    1. Odd how often that happens, isn't it? You experience something and someone else shares the same situation. Best of luck in your case, Rick. I pray I remember all this when It is my turn.

      My wife remembers when she had to insist on taking away her dad's car keys: one too many times running into trash cans or backing into a garbage truck.

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  9. Steve in Los AngelesThu Aug 02, 11:30:00 PM MST

    I never will forget the day that my Dad had to stop driving. My parents were living in a retirement community. However, my parents had a bad argument and my Dad went to stay in a hotel close to their home. Early one evening, my Dad decided to go for a drive in his car and he was driving his car erratically. A Los Angeles County Sheriff's deputy pulled my Dad over. Although my Dad did not get into an accident, the manner in which he was driving his car apparently was such a major safety issue that the Sheriff's deputy took my Dad's driver's license away and had his car towed to the closest Sheriff's station. One of my sisters called me up and asked me to go to the Sheriff's station to pick up my Dad. Obviously, I was worried and very concerned about my Dad. When I arrived at the Sheriff's station, I was relieved that my Dad was all right. However, I knew that my Dad's driving days were over permanently as my Dad permanently lost his driver's license. I certainly was not angry with my Dad, and I did not bawl him out. If anything, I felt very sorry for him, because I knew he never could drive again. It was at that point in time that my relationship with my Dad changed permanently, and the two of us became EXTREMELY close. That closeness would continue for the rest of my Dad's life.

    After I picked up my Dad at the Sheriff's office, I drove him back home and my parents made up. Since it was late in the evening when I returned my Dad back to his home, I spent the night in the hotel room that my Dad reserved for that night. I drove back to my place very early the next morning as I had to go to work that morning. One of my sisters went to pick up my Dad's car at the Sheriff's station the following day.

    Although I am sure that my Dad was disappointed, at the very least, that he no longer could drive, my Dad had no choice. He HAD to stop driving. The Los Angeles County Sheriff's deputy who pulled my Dad over and the California Department of Motor Vehicles made it mandatory that my Dad no longer could drive a motor vehicle, period!

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    1. Thanks, Steve, for sharing your story. That is exactly why I am taking the car now...before something like your dad's case or much worse happens.

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  10. Not easy, Bob. For my 90 year old mother, who has been living in an apartment at a elder community since my father passed in '93, it was having to force her to take on more services from the staff. That included help with bathing, laundry, having all meals in the dining hall rather than one/day, and so on. She has lasted all this time with nothing required, so in many ways we were lucky. But we actually had to convince her that she would be asked to leave if she did not take the stepup in required services before she agreed toit. She has the funds, we want her to be comfortable, but she struggled with the higher costs - must be the Irish side of her that grew up in the Depression. We alleviated that fear by making the payments from her account to the facility directly so she isn't constantly reminded of the costs, and I pay her other bills directly from her credit union account that I am a co-owner on. It has worked so far but man, was it a struggle to get her to bend. I hope and pray that I never do that to my daughter or wife, if it comes to that.

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    1. The process with dad is a strong reminder of what our kids will have to face at some time. One thing I reminded Dad was the reason he and mom moved to this facility was exactly for this ability to move through the various levels so the sons wouldn't have to worry. He did respond to that comment in a positive way. I think this will work out.

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  11. We just went through this with my 93yr.old father in law who had an apt. in our house. First it was the keys to his caddy which I call the land yacht. He lost his keys 4 times in a short period of time and the last time cost him $400 to replace the ignition key.

    When we mentioned this "might be a sign" he said it had nothing to do with his driving. Dave said, "no, but it has a lot to do with your state of mind and I think it's time to let it go." Surprisingly that resonated with him and he gave up his keys.

    Shortly after that we had we had sign after sign that he needed to move to an adult community with different levels. He left the water running and drained a 50 gallon water heater a few times... then there was the fire on his stove. If we hadn't been home the house would have gone up in flames with him in it.

    As for your dad being angry with you, I doubt that. Dad was spending too much time alone and became withdrawn in a group situation, even on our porch. Since he's moved he seems much happier and definitely more engaged than he had been for years.

    After talking with friends who've also gone through this the general consensus is relief all around. The parents are relieved they no longer have to cover up their little mistakes (or big ones), and they relax more. As for us it's a huge relief.

    Good luck!
    b

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    1. What seemed to get through to my dad about driving was the possibility of a lawsuit wiping out his money, and even going to jail because of his past history of fainting. Negligence is a criminal offense. While the jail part was remote, it does happen, it could happen, and it hit him as not the way he wants to end his life.

      I think he will be happier. He is so isolated now.

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    2. We touched on that when we talked to him about his state of mind. I think the people who suddenly hit the gas instead of the brake and plow into a crowd are truly befuddled. We also mentioned it wiping out his entire savings. He always responds when you hit the pocket!
      b

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  12. My Mom was widowed 3 times and was very independent. We noticed the short term memory getting worse along with a personality change. Her back gave out and she had to go to rehab for a month. The physical problem caused her to decline mentally and it was obvious she had not been eating, drinking, or generally taking care of herself very well. I had a month to find a place for her near me in Dallas and we put what things she needed in a trailer and brought her here to assisted living. She had agreed this was the best thing to do and to give up her car. I'm not too sure she remembers this on a regular basis, but she has a nice room, is safe, well fed, clean and cared for. After 3 years she seems happy where she is and if her stress level isn't better, I know mine sure is! I think she knew this was coming but was not able to ask for help.

    It sounds like your Dad really know, deep down, that this would be best for him. My thought is that he might surprise you. I wish you the best!

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    1. I agree, Susan, that he coming to the understanding this is best for him and for everyone else. He has already surprised us doing as well as he has after the death of my mom about 19 months ago. He was so devoted to her the family thought he might follow shortly afterward. But, no, he continues to chug along, happy as long as my wife and I join him for lunch at least once a week.

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  13. This is tough every single time. But we're all in this together, whether the parent or the child.

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  14. Is it possible to hire a nurse and have him live with you? I have always regretted not doing that for my mother. We had the room. Assisted living or a nursing home costs as much as a live in nurse. Just a thought. He may be happier with family.

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    1. Thanks for your thoughts, Matilda. Our house would not accommodate another person. The community he lives in has tremendous resources and is only 30 minutes from our home. Plus, my parents paid a substantial fee to enter the village because it guarantees entrance into their nursing center.

      Actually, he is happier with a quieter environment. A dog and visits from grandkids would stress him out. As long as I have lunch with him every week he is quite happy.

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  15. Your Dad is blessed on two counts. One, he has you and Betty to stand behind him and two that he has the funds to even consider assisted living. So many older people have neither.

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    1. He and mom did a great job of saving and planning for their future. Even though neither made big dollars, and dad was umemployed several times including losing a business, they still managed to prepare financially through the basic rule of living below your means.

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  16. If you can discuss the sensitive issues with your parents long before action is required it can make the situation a bit smoother, and most likely will eliminate uncertainty and guilt that the adult child may feel.

    I have discussed sensitive issues with my parents, who are still in good health and are handling their finances, their driving, and other matters just fine -- now. That won't continue forever, and I have a clear sense from them on how and when to exercise my judgement to handle various issues for them in the future.

    Happy weekend to Bob and all!

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  17. You and your wife are brave, brave people to confront the situation directly with "the talk." And responsible.


    Perhaps drawing from a dimly lit shelf in your library of memories, there must now be some ironical appreciation -- even something like understanding -- for the parental duty, as it is thrust on the child

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    1. Thanks, Alan. I don't think we are brave, just doing what comes with being a child of loving parents.

      BTW, occasionally Blogger has glitches and certain features stop working for awhile. Feel free to e-mail if that happens when you want to comment and I'll be glad to cut & paste.

      Have a great weekend.

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  18. My mother passed away 14 years a ago at the age of 84. I am now 60 and wondering hoe my own children will deal with me. After all that went on with my mother I am so grateful that I stepped back and allowed her to be a human being with the dignity to make her own decisions even if it hastened her death. I only hope that my own children will love me while I insist on doing things my way. My demise is my own. They will lose me somehow - I get to decide how.

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    1. Wondering how our kids will handle our death is probably a universal question. We hope they are accepting of what is natural, but still hope they will miss us and remember us fondly.

      I am quite happy with the dignity and amount of personal choices my dad's retirement community allow. They treat every resident like the unique individual they are.

      Thanks, Kathy and Dave for your sharing.

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