Go Away, Closer!


by Joy Loverde

I can’t get enough of the stories from people who are caring for aging parents. It’s one of the most effective ways we aging parent, eldercare, caregivinglearn and acknowledge each other for taking on this hard eldercare work. Here’s a story from my friend, Ellen who is the caregiver for her elderly mom.

“I’ve done something sneaky,” explained Ellen. “I went behind my mother’s back and asked the doctor to call Mom in for a physical examination. If it comes from the doctor, Mom will do anything.”

Over the past four years, Ellen has had little luck persuading her 75-year old mother to seek medical attention. Recalling a trip she made from her home in Chicago to visit her mother who resides in Florida, Ellen explained, “In the past, you could eat off the floor. Then I noticed the dirt--dirt on the floor, dirt in the corners of the kitchen. And once I became aware I started seeing more and more. So I made a casual suggestion that she hire a cleaning service, and Mom replied, ‘I don’t need any help.’ That was the first of many walls she put up between us.”

Being argumentative is a common tactic elderly people employ to avert doing something they don’t want to do.  There are also caregiver stories about lip-service.

During a recent online support-group chat, one family caregiver said that while her elderly uncle appears to be genuinely interested in what she has to say, most of his communication is geared toward ending the conversation. “For instance, when I ask him if he plans to buy a long-term care insurance policy, he always said, ‘yes.’ But when I give him information on the subject, he didn’t even look at it.”

In my eldercare book, The Complete Eldercare Planner, I wrote about the many reasons why our aging parents and loved ones don’t accept our help from time to time. While many of the reasons have to do with our communication style and the fact that our parents may not need our help at the moment, some of the reasons for aging parents rejecting our help are not so obvious.

Over the years I have learned a lot about the subject of anger from Mitch Messer, the master of anger management (check out The Anger Clinic), and Mitch is the person who identified “go away, closer” behavior, and here’s how that behavior plays a role in elder care.

Think about this possibility if you will. Our aging parents’ resistance to anything we have to offer can be a ploy to get our attention.  By rejecting recommendations and arguing about the littlest of details, parents can keep an ongoing focus on them. After all... once our parents agree with us and follow our advice, might they be of the belief that we won’t pay as much attention to them in the future?

Sad, isn’t it?

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2 Responses

  1. With my mother-in-law, it seems to be a matter of thinking she is still as fully capable as she was and still looking at her kids and their wives as kids rather than as responsible, mature adults. This comes through in comments she makes (things to watch out for and be careful of) as well as in her not wanting to accept help (and always making comments when she does along the lines of, "You sure didn't know when you married my son that you were signing up for this, did you?") I think part of that is embarrassment at needing help in the first place. Another reason she doesn't want to accept help is that she doesn't want to do anything different. Two things that greatly improved her life that she appreciates now are new hearing aids and a walker, but she resisted both at first and said she didn't need them and was doing just fine without them.
  2. Hmm... I read blogs on a similar topic, but i never visited your blog. I added it to favorites and i'll be your constant reader.
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