Why someone needs to play the “bad cop”

“Who says I can’t manage?”Does that sound familiar? Have you heard your mom or dad ask you this type of question? As they age at home, many seniors feel their dignity and independence are at stake if they need support. Often, there may be an underlying fear that hiring help now may be a first step towards being “put into a home.” Denial can be a significant challenge to overcome for all concerned. For example, a parent may rationalize he doesn’t garden anymore by choice because he doesn’t feel like it; in reality, gardening is too physically demanding. A parent may say frozen meals are just as tasty as the food she used to cook. In reality, meal preparation takes too much energy, even if commercially prepared food doesn’t provide the best dietary choices. How do you get the conversation going? Do you want to back the senior into a corner so he has to admit he can’t cope anymore without help? Do you keep raising the issue until he finally gives in? Do you bring him to the family doctor’s office, hoping the doctor will convince him he needs home care? My experiences have shown that it can be a successful strategy to invite an independent, unbiased third party into the home to discuss care with the senior. When an outsider is invited into the house, the senior will feel empowered and safe. The senior will typically draw upon logic instead of an emotional response to a family member.Your challenge is what type of choices you can present to someone who is in denial. If you sense your parent isn’t going to listen to you, get a professional who understands the risks of doing nothing and won’t approve to avoid rocking the boat. I’ve come to believe that you need someone who can play the “bad cop,” i.e., someone who will say it as it is and has nothing to lose. I often start this type of conversation off with a simple phrase: “You will likely fire me for what I am going to say, but it needs to be said.” I’ve never been fired so far.