I got a call last week from Sharon, a woman whose 87-year-old mother was being discharged from rehab in a few days. She said that while her mom was a little bit forgetful, she was fine living at home with minimal support, despite her advancing Alzheimer’s.
Hmm… that didn’t sound right to me.
In fact, as I soon learned, the reason Sharon’s mom was in rehab in the first place was that she had been hospitalized after overdosing on Tylenol. She had a headache and took two pills. A few minutes later, she had forgotten she took medicine and took two more. A few minutes after that, she took more again.
Living alone no longer seemed like a viable option.
Please understand, this is not a case of neglect or disinterest on Sharon’s part. She’s very engaged in her mom’s life and enormously concerned for her wellbeing. She just had a blind spot. Until we spoke, she had no plans for what she would do now, in order to keep her mom safe at home.
Everyone Has Blind Spots
We all have blind spots – parts of our lives in which we think we have everything under control, but where we really don’t see. Sometimes, these blind spots can affect important decisions that need to be made. (By the way, if you think you have no blind spots, that’s probably a blind spot.)
Recognizing these in ourselves can be hard. The first step, I think, is to notice areas of your life in which you are told the same things over and over again.
For me, that happened while soliciting feedback from some former clients. When I asked for feedback on how I could improve, a few told me that I sometimes seemed distracted when I was talking to them. Distracted?! I thought I was multi-tasking like a pro. Hearing that was like a slap in the face; it made me uncomfortable to know that I was perceived this way.
But then, with this new awareness, I started to see how distraction played out in my daily life: My daughter saying, “Mama, please put your phone down and watch this– the whole thing this time.” Or my sister talking for several minutes when, all of a sudden, I would realize that I had no idea what she was talking about (okay, maybe this still happens). One of my lowest points was when I once accidentally left my poor dog outside when I drove off to work on a hot day.
Blind spots can occur when caring for our parents, too. If we see them frequently, we may not even notice them aging. So, we miss obvious signs. Someone calling their kids multiple times of day may insist they are fine, concealing the fact that they feel anxious living alone. A series of falls over several months could be coincidence, but there’s a good chance they are all related. Maybe we’ve been proactively planning for the care of a loved one whose health is declining, but not realized the need to plan for the “well” spouse too.
In Sharon’s case, she might have noticed her blind spot by doing some more research about Alzheimer’s and the way it tends to manifest and progress over time. Absent that knowledge, it never occurred to her that if her mom was forgetting to take her medication “now and then,” she could just as well take a medication multiple times and suffer an overdose.
Asking questions is the key. After the first couple of medication errors, Sharon could have asked:
“What are the potential consequences of her meds getting mixed up?”
“Where else might she be making mistakes?”
“What else about Alzheimer’s might affect her ability to live safely at home?”
The point is, what makes blind spots so difficult to uncover is that in most cases, we don’t know what we don’t know. With that in mind, and when it comes to caring for our parents, we need to pay special attention and look for repeating patterns.
Ask yourself what you might be missing. Talk to experts. Observe with an open mind and, as best you can, try and avoid our natural tendency to look past what is right in front of us.