7 Tips for Preserving an Aging Parent's Dignity

Carol Bradley Bursack | April 22, 2015

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Fearing that their aging parents could be injured, caregivers can become nagging nannies who try to stop Dad from working in his beloved shop or Mom from gardening. But insisting that elders avoid all risks can compromise their dignity and joy. So how do you find the right balance of concern and trust?

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Encourage hobbies and productive pursuits

While poor vision, impaired balance and other health issues may hamper your loved one’s pursuit of an old hobby, everyone needs to have a sense of accomplishment. If your aging parent wants to do something potentially risky, offer ideas for increased safety, but avoid over being overly protective.

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Ask parent what he or she wants to be called

Instruct in-home or facility caregivers about how your elders like to be addressed. While terms of endearment are fine under the right circumstances, every person is different. One elder may feel fine with someone who calls him or her “Hon,” while another may not like it at all. Let others know that names matter.

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Avoid using baby terms

Many elders suffer from incontinence which is humiliating enough without being told they need a diaper. Certainly the term underwear or pad will suffice. The same goes for any type of assistive device. Choose a dignified label or use the label your parent prefers.

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Allow privacy

When people need assistance they lose much of their privacy. Still, caregivers can work to minimize that feeling of intrusion. If you assist in toileting and bathing, take steps to cover private areas and choose terms that show respect.

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Include parent in conversations

During a medical appointment or in conversation with friends, avoid talking over or around the parent. Even if he or she can’t respond, use eye contact to communicate that the elder is part of the group. If you look directly at your loved one when talking, others will often follow your lead.

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Offer choices

Instead of telling elders when and what they are going to eat or wear, present choices so that there is some sense of control for them. Remember that people lose power as their health declines. Allow the dignity of choice whenever possible.

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Validate, don't argue

Even when people have Alzheimer’s disease and seem completely detached from reality, their truth is as real to them as your truth is to you. Agree with them when you can and ignore things you can’t agree with by distracting them with something more pleasant.

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The takeaway

Your parents will always be your parents. They deserve to have their dignity respected. When you become their caregiver, it’s up to you to protect their dignity throughout their decline and the death process. And sometimes that means letting go.