Critter Corner: When Dad is a Risk Taker

Dear Oakley,

My dad has Parkinson’s and Parkinson’s dementia (very mild right now) and we care for him in our home. Recently, after a nap, he forgot that he can no longer walk and tried to escape from his bed. He has also tried to get a hold of the car keys several times. He was never much of a risk taker in the past, but now I’m afraid he will fall or something worse will happen. What can you do if your loved one is a risk taker?

Thanks for your help!

Riss Keyness

Dear Riss,

It sounds like your dad is among many proud men and women who may not have been risk-takers in the past, but are fighting to remain independent, have lots of pride, forget that they can no longer do the things they used to do, and/or are trying to be active and not timid and sedentary. Similar to others, he may be trying to prove to himself and to others that he is still capable.

As you realize though, by ignoring symptoms and pushing the limits of his capabilities, he may be putting himself in harm’s way while alarming and angering family caregivers, such as yourself. While we are not doctors and cannot provide medical advice, here are some practical ideas about what to do when your father exhibits risky behaviors:

Avoid taking a parental role: Ever know people who when told what they can’t do, they will immediately become fiercely determined to show they can? For many, the more that doctors lecture them and spouses scold them, the more reckless they become. To avoid this from happening, perhaps consider trying not to act like a parent and instead affirm that it is up to him to use good judgment. Clearly this approach will not work in the later stages of dementia when there is no good judgment remaining to be exercised.

Understand where he’s coming from: For many in your father’s situation, the losses of free movement and physical abilities are difficult to handle mentally. It could very well be underlying grief and anger about those losses that compels people like your dad to break the rules. If you can gently bring up those feelings and help him grieve his losses, he may be less likely to act them out rebelliously.

Help them prove themselves in more adaptive ways: It’s the same impulse to walk without assistance when a caregiver or a loved one isn’t looking that inspires some men and women to give their utmost in physical therapy, pushing themselves hard to do their exercises and thereby maximizing whatever potential they have for recovery.

Allow time for acceptance: It takes time — often upwards of a year — to fully accept a challenging medical diagnosis such as Parkinson’s disease. Those who are diagnosed may have the tendency at first to deny or minimize the diagnosis. For the loved one, testing themselves to prove their capabilities is part of that process. Sometimes they must experience a few well-earned falls and bumps to learn the hard way about the new reality of their limitations.

Remind him that you are not the enemy: Remind your father that his struggles are your struggles, too. Assure him that the best way forward is by supporting one another to live as well as possible. Your comfort, not anger, may be the best way to help him during this challenging time.

When Aging-in-Place is No Longer an Option

What happens when you can no longer care for your father in your home? It’s important to ensure that he can always receive the care he needs without worry or financial struggle, as the costs of assisted living facilities and nursing homes in the DMV area are catastrophically expensive. It’s never too early or too late to get started with planning for long-term care. Reach out to us here at the Farr Law Firm to make an appointment for a consultation.

Hope this helps!



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About Renee Eder

Renee Eder is the Director of Public Relations for the Farr Law Firm, and gives the voice to the Critters of Critter Corner. Renee’s poodle, Penny, is an official comfort dog who she and her children bring to visit with seniors who are in the early stages of dementia at a local senior home once a month.

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