Behavioral Zen

I’m having lunch with one of my married sons and his wife, and they tell me that they visited my mother. “You should see her zipping down the halls in that new walker! Wow! It’s scary!” cries Cham.

“Is that thing even safe?” asks my son. He picked up his grandmother’s worry gene.

Well, we hope so.

“She sure seems to love it,” his wife adds.

Yes and no. It is snazzy, and it is red, and she does love it, to a degree. The silver one they sent with her from the hospital last year has two gliders instead of a back set of wheels (the red one is a 4-wheeler) and the gliders slow her down.

The physical therapist calls the silver one the very best, however, because there are so many ways to arrange the wheels, the height.  You can even exchange the gliders for wheels. One visit with a physical therapist or an occupational therapist, and your whole way of looking at things changes. These people are geniuses.


FD and I took Mom to a wedding tonight. Dear friends of ours married off a daughter to a wonderful young man, and seeing people we haven't seen in many, many years, makes me delirious. My mother had a great time, we all did, and I took her up to her apartment in her independent living facility afterward.

On the way up she tells me the many different things she had worried about before the wedding, and how none of her fears materialized.  (Crazy, I know.)  "They seemed so happy to see me!"

Well, yeah. 

As she settled into her nighttime rituals, I noticed she didn’t use either of her walkers. Not the trusty silver one with the gliders, not the new red one with four wheels.

“This is an accident waiting to happen,” I spit out. “They told you that you have to use your walker ALL of the time.”

“I don't want to become dependent,” she tells me. End of the matter.

Dependency is bad.

“It’s not like taking drugs. It’s good to have one or two of these things to depend upon.”

She gives me that look, as in, Well, some of us disagree.

“Would you rather be dependent upon a caregiver? Because all it takes is one good fall and this independence thing is over, a thing of the past.  Maybe for good.”

She looks sad. I don’t want to turn a wonderful, warm, intimate evening with friends into a sad night. Bubble bursting is not our thing. But I can't help myself and continue.

“Think of it this way. Has your doctor told you , 'S.  You should really try not to use that walker. Use it for emergencies, or when you go out, maybe, but it is better to avoid using it all the time because you might become dependent upon it.'
Has any health care professional ever told you this?”

She shakes her head.

Nu?” I ask. (Nu, rhymes with Jew, Yiddish for So, already? or maybe What do you say to that?)

We're on a roll here.

“They all say, as a matter of fact, Keep it close to you. You need it. At your age, you need it. Everyone expects you to have one. No one expects you to still be here, pooh, pooh, pooh, at your age, and not have a set of wheels.”

She looks at me incredulously, for only six months ago she surrendered the car keys.  The rant goes on.

“Think of it as a part of you. Think of yourself and the walker as one. It is an extension of you, the walker. You and the walker, one person.  My walker, myself.”

No expression. Blank.  No idea if she’s copping to this. I turn from her to set up her medicines for the week, she gets on pajamas. When I finish she is standing behind me. She’s holding onto the silver one.



Glimmer said…
This is wonderful. An example of the "sandwich" from your very own life. And the proper way to address this very delicate issue. Someone told me this is "the song of our (baby boomer) generation." We are raising children or helping after they are grown and having their own children, and at the same time caring for increasingly frail relatives living into 80s, 90s and beyond in unprecedented numbers. I have retired friends always on the run to and from "homes" on missions for many relatives, blood and steps. Always a call from the home, either from the relative or a caregiver seeking help/guidance about this problem or that crisis or the next one.

I thought the care facilities were supposed to give everyone involved some peace. But watching these friends I have to wonder. Especially the ones who have hired "sitters" for their loved ones in those care facilities. I know I just veered way off from your topic but something I have been puzzling about for some time. Because I am extremely fortunate to have a very aged relative who is still at home, and siblings to help, but who knows how long that can last.
Kitty said…
my mother uses a walker as needed, and has a portable wheelchair that my dad can get in and out of the car easily if they know they will have a longer trip to make (like the mall or Walmart).
But for a long time they were tackling the stairs in and out of the house in bizarre ways. one of which my father trying to carry her...and he's 82. She became more and more housebound just because of four little stairs.
I finally broached the subject of having a ramp built over the front stairs. My mother would not hear of it. in her mind getting a ramp meant being stuck in the wheelchair forever. I had to mention that the ramp would get her in and out of the house walking without stairs. Right? She had not thought of it that way.
Eventually they came around to the idea and they love it. she uses it as a front porch and can easily use the walker to get to the car. She hasn't needed the wheelchair in a year.
therapydoc said…
Thanks. I'm even thinking, Scooter. But then it's hell on wheels (and they're exorbitant).
The Blue Morpho said…
I'm glad your mom seems to be taking the safer path - but I feel for her. After having so much independence stripped by mental illness, I'm not looking forward to losing physical independence as well. I think I might be one of the walker-resisters someday :)
Adventures in Anxiety Land
tuesday@11 said…
We all pleaded with my 80 yr old mom, after 5 falls in 6 months to please use her walker to no avail.I tried every approach imaginable. She would agree that yes, she needed to use it, then proudly walk without it. I begged and pleaded with her to give up driving, she only got angrier with me. She lived with us, I took her to all of her appointments and would have taken her to the store to shop too. But, she said I want to go out by myself sometimes. I gave in. Four months ago she drove off by herself and rolled her truck. She was severely injured and is in a nursing home center being cared for. After a lifetime of dealing with an extremely difficult mom I wish I would have tackled her and took the keys. I was too tired and so tired of her wrath after all these years.
Anonymous said…
After having a parent who had a debilitating illness for many years I realized that as the parent becomes unable to physically be independent, it is important to maintain and to emphasize other tasks that the parent CAN do, such as make decisions for himself/herself like food choices and money management decisions. This is aging with dignity.
therapydoc said…
I agree, anon. The art is letting that happen when the parent is in denial about what makes a decision good or bad. We have an expression, you can't put a stumbling block in front of anyone, meaning, if you know that person is in danger, prevent the accident.
Liz said…
thanks for this article. i am always conflicted in matters such as this. on the one hand, it seems that once we've reached a certain age we have a right to make our own decisions, even bad decisions. on the other hand...........
porcini66 said…
As my mom ages (so much more quickly now that my dad has died...), I am seeing a new vulnerability in her. She seems, I don't know...sadder...somehow than I ever remember seeing her. Sort of resigned(?) to her body's failings as they come. She even says that she can't do things now, "not like I used to be able to". I think that I am taking her aging harder than she is, honestly. I'm glad that your mom is open to you. I think sometimes they do that just for us, you know. Cuz they know that it makes us feel better...
Ellie said…
What is most interesting to me is that you could see yourself going "too far" with the nag, all the way to a rant. Yet, you could not stop yourself!
I do that too, to my kids, at work, to my parents and my husband.
Do you think she's not using it when you are not looking? She got the silver one out just to get you to stop going on about it, right?
therapydoc said…
No question, Ellie, you're onto her.