Category Archives: Aging in place

Helping Your Newly-Widowed Parent

For awhile after my husband’s father died, we feared that his widow was soon going to follow him. They had been married for over sixty years. For almost a month all she seemed to want to do was sleep and she was apathetic to her family’s questions and suggestions about what to do next with her life. Eventually she snapped out of it and became interested in life and far more energetic. In hindsight, what we now realize, is that being his care-giver had taken a tremendous toll on her, plus she needed to adjust internally to her new situation.

Grieving is a process. Generally there are three stages of grief: the initial shock, the experiencing of the emotions, and the recovery. Continue reading Helping Your Newly-Widowed Parent

Pack-Rat Parents (1)

Some people have grown up in homes that were chronically overflowing with miscellaneous possessions and this was accepted as normal. Some of you may have cringed at the thought of bringing friends into your home because you knew your home was really far from normal. Very often it is one parent that is the hoarder and the other one accepts the situation in order to keep the peace. In other situations you notice that your aging parent is hanging on to inconsequential things that they normally would have thrown out such as junk mail and you wonder why.  In both cases the parents seem to lack insight into their situation and are unaware that this could be a problem for anyone else.

How do you tell a hoarder from an enthusiastic collector? Hoarders collect things but collecting is not the same as hoarding. It is considered hoarding when things have accumulated to such a degree that it hampers proper use of a room and/or poses a safety risk. Hoarding is more properly defined as the  acquisition of and failure to discard a large number of possessions that appear to be useless or of little value. If you suggest getting rid of any of it the person reacts with fear or anger. Worse, if you do anything about it, like clean up while they are gone, you have made an egregious error and created a breach of trust.

Some people who were collectors because of a hobby begin to lose control of the accumulations as they age. In fact, what was a mild problem can become more full-blown and noticeable with age. They leave everything out in the open as a reminder, believing that if they put things away they would forget about them. You visit your mother and notice that the dining room table is layered with many months’ accumulation of mail. A lot of it is junk mail but you also notice that there are bills that have not been opened or, even, bills that were paid twice. You ask if you can help her go through this pile and throw some of it away and the response is fear. You ask a few questions and learn that she worries that she might throw out something that is important or she thinks she might want to use that credit card offer someday/maybe. You realize she has lost the ability to make distinctions.