Let’s get real.

Watching our moms, dads, or other loved ones age is tough. Being realistic about their needs and abilities can be even tougher.

Over the last ten years, we’ve worked with many people who, at best, were optimistic about their loved one’s condition—and at worst, were in denial to the point of letting care needs go unmet. Ever since working as marketers for a continuing care retirement community and even now as consultants, we’ve encountered these rifts between hope and reality on a regular basis.

In the world of psychology, there is a term for these rifts: magical thinking. When an individual “believes in things more strongly than either evidence or experience justifies,” that person is engaging in magical thinking. We all do it to a certain extent. For example, we live in Southern California, and despite overwhelming evidence that we’re due for “the big one” someday, many of us don’t have our earthquake kits together because it’s easier to live in denial and go on with our lives.

In the world of senior care, there are many examples of magical thinking, like the nieces we met who were convinced that their aunt was just “eccentric” when in fact she had dementia and almost burned her house down making dinner. There is Leslie’s father, who, despite being almost completely deaf, continues to drive and has absolutely no plans to stop. We have met with countless daughters and sons who both under- and overestimate the amount of care their aging loved ones need because they simply aren’t in tune with reality.

We understand.

From the point of view of the seniors, during all the losses they are experiencing, the drive is to maintain as much control and independence as possible. For us adult children, it can be hard to reconcile that our strong, competent, accomplished parents are no longer as independent as they once were. It may seem easier just to ignore these clues that our parents need help as they age. We may want to excuse some odd behavior here, or a little slip-up there. It’s in our nature to hope that Mom or Dad will bounce back and that these things are just a matter of getting the meds adjusted or recovering from a trip out of town that exhausted them. Or perhaps the situation is that we are already firmly rooted, but our parents are the ones caught up in magical thinking. In those situations, many people remain silent, in fear of hurting or alienating their parents.

Regardless of who is the magical thinker in your family, it can be dangerous to let things slide. It only takes one fall down those steps, one phone call from an unscrupulous scammer, or one forgotten pot on the stove to rob Mom or Dad of their independence forever. Instead of hoping for the best or just waiting for a crisis to happen, it’s far wiser to take steps now to get real. We can make plans that will truly help our parents remain as in control and independent as possible. This planning becomes especially important if, like us, you don’t live near your aging loved ones.

So what do you do once you’ve come to grips with the reality of Mom or Dad’s current situation? How can you help them while still respecting the roles of parent and child? In our upcoming webinar, we will discuss some things you can do to help manage your aging loved one’s care, whether you live 2 miles or 2,000 miles away from them. We’ll go over how you can be connected so you don’t have to go this alone. We’ll help you be prepared for your aging loved one’s health decline so you can be proactive rather than reactive. Finally, we’ll explain some simple ways you can be organized so you can minimize the stress and confusion for everyone involved. Part of getting real means getting ready. And we’ll help you get there.

About the Authors

Leslie Peters is co-founder of the senior care consulting firm Peters & Love. Her work in a retirement community deepened her interest in senior care, which remains especially relevant as her parents are aging. She is passionate about bringing energy and fun to senior care and wants to inspire a new cultural conversation about aging. She holds an MA in Gerontology from USC’s Davis School of Gerontology.

Jil Love

Jill Love works with seniors, adult children, and other family members to plan, prepare, and bring clarity and relief to families overwhelmed by the many facets of senior care. Her interest in senior care began when two of her grandparents developed dementia. She became a certified nursing assistant as a teen and found that she loved working with older adults. Her search for a career blending business, seniors, and healthcare led her to a retirement community, where she met Leslie Peters, with whom she founded the consulting firm Peters & Love. Jill has an RCFE license and holds an MA in Gerontology from USC’s Davis School of Gerontology.