Are the Decisions You Make for Your Elderly Parents Biased? (Adobe Stock)

I still remember the days when my parents chose my wardrobe. They paid for my clothes and, therefore, I had to wear what they wanted. Needless to say, their selections were less than fashionable, resulting in me getting a healthy dose of teasing on the playground. This helped me learn a valuable lesson: When others get to make decisions on your behalf, it’s really hard for them to set aside their own tastes and motives. I call this the Decision Maker Bias.

Many decades later, I now find myself heavily involved in my parents’ care and often have to decide what’s best for them. Should they move into a facility or live on their own? Do they need a caregiver or perhaps even a geriatric care manager? Should they downsize or keep living in their house with a stairway? I constantly catch myself forming strong opinions on each of these topics. But after some introspection, I realize that there is a trace of my own interest in them. I genuinely want my parents to be happy, so I created a framework that helps me spot decisions where I might be affected by the Decision Maker Bias.

 

Proximity

We often try to get our parents to move closer to ourselves, thinking that they will benefit from us being able to spend more time with them. However, we also have to consider the cultural impact on our parents’ lives. Would a culturally conservative 90-year-old from the Midwest feel at home near Berkeley, CA? Will they be able to connect with their neighbors? And will they find a local church that fits their needs? While it’s true that we might be seeing them on weekends, they may experience isolation and depression on all other days of the week. Also, their old friends and neighbors they leave behind are often restricted in their mobility, making it very hard to see each other again. When relocating an elder, we have to remember that this is more traumatic for them than we can imagine.

 

Safety

Safety is the cornerstone argument in almost all elder care discussions; we use it to downgrade houses, move our parents to assisted living facilities, veto long trips and outdoor activities, etc. But what we often forget is that money can buy safety—you can hire caregivers, install home safety equipment, use smart monitors, etc. In other words, the question should not be: “Is it safe?” but instead: “Can we afford to make it safe?” You won’t always be able to say yes, but be aware that being an overprotective adult child is not always in the best interest of your parents—sometimes the extra effort and cost it will take to keep them safe might be worth the happiness they’ll get out of their wishes for autonomy and independence coming true.

 

Relationships

I don’t believe that this is happening between me and my parents, but I’ve certainly encountered it as part of my work. As caregivers and elders spend a lot of time together, inevitably, they start forming strong bonds which can make the adult children jealous. Particularly, the topic of oversharing sensitive family stories seems to come up a lot. Caregivers are in a difficult spot; as a companion, a part of their job is to be a great listener, but not all topics are good for their job security. Adult children can get suspicious that the caregivers are being nosy, and it’s hard to determine who initiates such conversations. What’s clear in those situations is that the adult children face the Decision Maker Bias: Their hurt feelings can hinder their parents’ ability to bond with their caregiver.

 

Hobbies

When encouraging my mom to be more active, I usually suggest that we go for a walk. I just love the outdoors, and it’s one of my favorite ways to bond with her. However, I recently read in the New England Journal of Medicine that dancing trumps all other recreational activities when it comes to mental acuity in aging. Well, dancing is my least favorite activity, and now I face the same dilemma that parents face when helping their kids decide which sports to pursue—should I encourage something that we’ll both enjoy? This just reminds me once again that our personal taste has a real impact on the people we care for.

Are there any other areas where you can spot the Decision Maker Bias? Leave them in the comments so that we can all be more aware, and get better at realizing our bias when we make decisions on behalf of the ones we love.

2 COMMENTS

  1. I have been in this situation for a couple of years now. My parents are both 93. My parents needed caregivers but at first my father was reluctant to accept strangers in the home. He is more mobile and alert than my mother, who was recently put on home hospice care. We also have been using a home caregiver company to provide ten hours a day of coverage. I had to get them to accept the caregivers little by little, starting at just a few hours a day. When he realized that mom didn’t want to take showers anymore is when I pushed for the help. I live six hours away, so
    I told him that mom needs help with bathing because she’s so weak & unsteady. He’s very devoted to her,so that made sense to him. As she has become more and more needy, I have added hours but I always check with him first. He just wants to be consulted & feel in control. Little things around the house that I saw as safety issues, I suggested to him that we make changes & mostly he’s been agreeable. But it is a slippery
    slope and being bossy or too insistent doesn’t work, just like it doesn’t with anyone. He was very upset about hospice coming in, but has come around to see that it’s a good thing, & he also is very happy with the private caregivers that have been coming daily for many months now. It takes patient explanations, & sometimes the same thing will need to be explained several times. I am careful to never show exasperation & just calmly explain it again.

    • Thanks for sharing your story Joyce. I think this is a very important issue and one that we may not fully understand until WE are in the situation of having our offspring insist on making decisions for us. I was just at CES with my adult son and we stopped by a booth that has a one button calling service for seniors. As we were discussing these types of interventions that adult children get for their parents, I realized and said strongly, I don’t want my son ever telling me I have to wear a device like this. It led to an interesting discussion with the vendor, my son, and me.

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