My aunt is a widow in her mid-80’s, living alone in a very lovely condo up north. She has been generally healthy and active in her community, playing bridge, bowling and going to movies with friends. She has visited us several times in Bucerias, and has even thought she might move here.
Our family has begun to notice that her decisions and behaviors have become erratic. At first, just small things seemed off, such as sending two birthday cards to the same person, or forgetting appointments she’d made. But recently, she bought in cash an expensive home heating system from a door-to-door salesman when she already has a perfectly good one. When her family pointed out her mistake, she said she felt so stupid and has generally been down on herself since then. I hear that she no longer engages with her friends and hardly leaves the house. This change in her has upset the whole family.
Brus, how do we work with this situation? On the one hand, we don’t want her making impulsive decisions, and on the other, we want to see that vital, confident person emerge again.
As the well-worn expression goes, “Getting old is not for sissies.” Even in our 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, we notice in ourselves more difficulty eeing and hearing, and more memory lapses. In her 80’s, I suspect your aunt has been aware of her declining mental abilities for some time, but was able to counteract these lapses with a confident, engaging attitude. It seems that this incidence of the heating system was like a dam bursting for her. She can no longer pretend that she is completely self-sufficient and capable. In short, she is now in transition from independence to needing support.
The involvement of the family is now essential and must address the two main issues you have raised. The first is physical and practical, ensuring that she is safe and making good decisions for herself; the second is emotional support, encouraging her to step out of her depression and reengage her world.
To begin this process, I suggest your family members meet to discuss your concerns and ways to support your aunt. This can be done in person, through Skype or conference calls. Emailing would have to do if the other options weren’t available. Hopefully, any differences of opinion that may arise regarding to your aunt’s situation can be resolved and a united game plan put in place for her support.
Without knowing your family, I would still advise that you all consider your personal roles and responsibilities for her care. For instance, who is physically closest to her, who does she tend to listen to, who is best at putting ideas into practice? In this, you must ask yourselves if she can continue to live independently with regular visits by family and friends, needs live-in care, or requires an entirely more supportive living arrangement.
Upset, this is important and delicate work for your family. Whereas your aunt needs a level of further support, she must also feel as though she is not a burden, but a vital contributor to her family and friends. This delicate balance will take perseverance, patience and, above all, understanding and kindness on everyone’s part.
You may even consider inviting your aunt down to Bucerias for a short visit. There is nothing like sun and surf to revitalize spirits!
I wish you the best of outcomes for your aunt and family. I would appreciate your letting me know how your aunt’s care evolves.