Remember when you were 12 or 13 and so many things your parents did embarrassed you? Then you grew up, and grew to appreciate your parents. And, most likely adopted some of those habits that then embarrassed your kids. Now, some 40-50 years down the road, you might be experiencing some parental embarrassment all over again. See if you can relate to any of these client stories about their elderly parents. Then, learn more about what certain behaviors might be telling you and what to do about it.
Client Stories of Embarrassing Moments with Elderly Parents
We took Dad out to our favorite restaurant. He actually asked the waiter to cut his steak for him! He had trouble negotiating the "finer skills" of eating out and he was rude to the waitstaff. When the waiter asked him a question, he was a bit confused and reacted by berating the waiter. He complained loudly about the outrageous prices and the staff.
Mom has mild dementia. She lives in a retirement home. I was mortified when I got a call that she and Henry, her new “friend”, were having intimate moments in the lounge area. Just before that, she had made a flirtatious overture to her grandson (he looks like his deceased grandfather). A few times she also made some racy comments towards staff. It’s like having an unruly teenager again!
We have Dad over for dinner regularly. We started noticing he was always wearing the same outfit. One night we had some friends over for a barbecue and Dad arrived. He was wearing that same outfit and it became apparent it hadn’t been washed in a while. And, that he hadn’t washed himself in a while either. Dad had always been so fastidious. He used to embarrass me in front of my friends criticizing my sloppy outfits and hair as a kid. It was shocking for everyone to see his messy appearance.
We noticed Mom was getting forgetful. The hardest part was the repetitive questions. Her friends stopped inviting her to their weekly lunch. They told me I need to “do something about her”. My kids were kind, but they didn’t know how to react when she asked their friends the same question over and over. Or, when she called them by my name.
Dad’s friend called me to tell me that he wet his pants at their weekly card game. They’d noticed he sometimes had an odor, but it was the first time for such an obvious incident. I hadn’t been to visit in a while but immediately planned a trip. When I arrived, I was stunned by the smell in the house. Apparently, the issue had been going on for some time. The house was a mess.
Advice from the Experts
We all know we shouldn’t be embarrassed about such moments with elderly parents. Lots of people have been through this stuff and understand. But, in the moment, it can be tough. And, not everyone is so understanding.
It’s important to see beyond the embarrassment, to take the clues from these situations. Think of your reddened face as a red flag. When there’s a major change in your elderly parents’ behavior or appearance, it’s time to take some action.
Download our Warning Signs: How to Know When your Parent May Need Help as a guide.
What to Do/Where to Turn
Dad going from fastidious to disheveled indicates he can’t handle personal care on his own anymore. With just a little help, you can give him his dignity back. Good personal care also ensures he’s healthy and safe. If he wants to remain at home, some household help can keep things tidy and functioning.
It’s time to get an assessment and make some plans when you notice Mom repeating questions, missing words, confusing people and missing appointments. There are a lot of little things that can be done to help Mom manage with memory loss. But, the situation can go beyond embarrassing to dangerous without intervention.
Even for the simply uncomfortable situations like Mom’s "flirtations" or Dad's dinnertime difficulties, it helps to talk with an expert. First, it can be a good way to process your feelings. If you’re feeling shame, sadness or anger, it’s a relief to have a sounding board. Caregiving can be tough. It’s made tougher by the complexities of family history. You may be frustrated by the responses of friends and family. Whether you feel alone or find yourself snapping easily, you need an outlet. Seek a support group, counselor or care manager to discuss these feelings.
Additionally, a care manager can suggest solutions if secondary problems arise. For example, you might encounter other residents’ families lodging complaints. Or, facility staff might ask you to intervene because of concerns over public behavior. Because we’ve dealt with this many times before (and aren’t emotionally involved), our care managers can talk you through handling the situation.
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