Dear Carol: I’ve always been a Daddy’s girl, so my 84-year-old dad’s lifestyle worries me. While being active is good, Dad spends most of his day outside even in this extreme heat, taking long walks and gardening around the condominium building. He loves these things and I’ll give him credit for staying hydrated. Still, I feel at his age he should find something to do inside on super-hot days.
Not related but still worrying is his diet. It’s terrible. He eats enough and his weight is good, but he should eat less meat and more vegetables and fruit. He calls me a vegetarian nag and he’s right, but I want him around for a long time to come, so how do I handle him? — WT.
Dear WT: I understand your concern as a daughter because we want our parents to do their best to stay healthy. In both of your examples, you are technically right, but your approach is one that is likely to backfire.
While your dad’s lifestyle isn’t perfect, it’s exemplary considering that of most people his age. I realize that I’m repeating myself when I say this, but it helps most of us to remember that our parents are grown-ups who have a lifetime of experience behind them. Your dad has his preferences which may not be in line with yours or even medically sound, but he does have rights.
I’m repeating myself here, as well, because a while back I used the same logic for someone who wanted their parent to make different end-of-life choices. Also, in another where the family wanted their father to place their mother in a facility.
These adult children all meant well, but my point remains the same. Badgering and nagging older people (or anyone?) generally backfires. Note, I’m not referring to people with dementia who sometimes need heavy supervision, though badgering is still infective and will frequently return negative results.
It’s fine to gently remind your dad about this unusual heat since it is a legitimate threat and the effects can sneak up on anyone. Tell him you’re scared that he’ll have heatstroke before he realizes it but avoid saying anything about his age. While it’s true that older people are at increased risk, he knows that.
If you gently encourage him and then back off, you might even hear him admitting that he’s already cut back on his outside time during the worst of the heat. Or not. But at least he might be more willing to think about doing so if he doesn’t feel he has to prove himself.
About the meat? His weight is good, and he eats. That should be something to celebrate.
I’m concerned that you’ll distance your dad by overstepping your responsibility as his daughter and damage this precious relationship you two have. Again, occasional reminders about the heat might be OK. Let the rest go. You are both fortunate that he is so healthy and active! Enjoy him and his good health.
Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran caregiver and an established columnist. She is also a blogger, and the author of “Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories.” Bradley Bursack hosts a website supporting caregivers and elders at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached through the contact form on her website.