Power Struggles, Part 1: Identifying Power Struggles with Elderly Parents

assisted home care, care for older people, elder care in Minnesota, home care services for seniors, non medical senior care, senior home assistance, in home care MinneapolisAging can be a process of constant grief and loss.  A senior may be grieving the loss of independence when he realizes he can no longer drive, the loss of dignity in the form of bowel incontinence, or the loss of companionship as long-time friends die or move into assisted living facilities.  As seniors grapple with these losses, the need to maintain power and control can become vitally important to them.  People don’t want to feel helpless in their own lives, and that’s particularly true for seniors who have spent a lifetime being in total control of their surroundings.

As an in-home senior care provider, we frequently see power struggles at play in familial relationships.  Mom, for example, has always been clean, but she now refuses to bathe after moving into assisted living.  Dad desperately needs help with cleaning, but he will only allow his at-home caregiver to do minimal tasks around the house and insists on ignoring the rest of what needs to be done.  Or Mom simply refuses to have outside help, even though she is clearly in no condition to be cleaning floors on her own.

What is a power struggle?

In a power struggle, at least one person is vying to gain or keep control.  Frequently, however, the conflict is not overtly related to independence or control.

For example, Edith is losing her eyesight and has lost her ability to drive.  She recently injured herself when she tripped over a throw rug, and now she’s afraid that her family will force her from her home.  Because of her vision loss, Edith is no longer cooking like she used to and now lives on frozen dinners.  Daughter Nancy thinks that Edith needs more balanced nutrition, so she suggests to her mom that she should get a homemaker-companion to cook for her.  Edith throws a fit and flat-out refuses.

For Nancy, this is not a power struggle.  She is only concerned about her mom’s well-being.  For Edith, however, she is grieving the loss of her independence and her eyesight.  She’s worried about being forced from her home.  Although she may appreciate home-cooked meals again and may acknowledge to herself that she could use help, her kids have already taken away her car keys, and she’s not going to give up anything more.  For Edith, this is a power struggle.


For those adult children taking care of elderly parents, power struggles are bewildering and frustrating.  Their desire to help someone they love is unnecessarily complicated over seemingly trivial matters.

Be sure to check out our follow-up blog, “Power Struggles, Part 2:  How to Avoid Power Struggles.”

Carol Hauser, M.A.

September 14, 2012

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