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Parents and Adult Children: Coping With the Role Reversal

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by Steven Marcus on 10/14/14 1:31 PM

When someone has a child, they make a pledge to care for that child, protect them, and guide them toward role-reversal-between-parent-and-adult-childrenmaking choices that are in their best interests, and sometimes making those choices on their behalf. But as those children grow older, and parents age and start living in long-term care facilities, the roles of parents and their adult children change significantly, Sometimes, it can feel like the roles have reversed, which can be uncomfortable for everyone involved, including the aging parent, their adult child, and even other residents and the staff at the care facility where the senior lives.

How Far Does Role Reversal Go?

When it comes to long-term care residents, the extent of parent/adult child role reversal can vary a lot. For some, the feeling of that reversal begins with the decision to move into a facility in the first place. For others, the change comes more gradually. The adult child may become concerned about their parent driving due to slowing reflexes and changes in hearing and eyesight. They may notice more forgetfulness that can lead to potentially dangerous situations, like forgetting to turn off the stove. They might also notice a decline in their parent's personal hygiene capabilities. Less common is a change in a parent's ability to make sound financial decisions, and there may be times when an adult child might need to protect their parent against organizations that target the elderly and try to get them to sign up for contests or donate to charity beyond what they can really afford.

When Role Reversal Goes Too Far

In most instances, there shouldn't be a complete role reversal with residents of a long-term care facility and their adult children. Unless there is mental decline that is severe enough to warrant that the son or daughter take on Power of Attorney, the change should be limited mostly to guidance, with actual decisions left to the senior. It can be hard for some adult children to know how to embrace an adult relationship  with a parent without inadvertently taking over. Many seniors become concerned about "being put in a home" by their children, but in most cases this is no one's decision but the senior's. Adult children should not withhold important information from their parents because they are judging what the parent can or can't handle hearing.

Role reversal goes too far when it comes about against either the parent or the adult child's will. Guilt is one component that should not enter into making elder care decisions. Seniors should not bring up sacrifices they made when their children were younger in order to get them to do things for them that they can do for themselves. Keeping a strong line of honest communication open is key, as is encouragement and support for those times when it becomes necessary for seniors to ask for help.

Appropriate Staff Reaction to Family Strain

When seniors live in a long term care facility, how they handle the stress of any family strain they are experiencing can affect other residents at the facility as well as the staff. When this happens, it is important that staff members do not take sides or do something that could be interpreted as pitting residents against their family members. Instead they should stay as neutral as possible, and continue to care for all residents in the facility, as well as themselves.

Source: http://www.sageminder.com/Caregiving/Relationships/RoleReversal.aspx

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