There is plenty of advice for parenting a child with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), but what about giving care for an aging parent with ADHD?
by Linda Roggli
There are thousands of pages and hundreds of websites (this one included) about parenting an ADHD child. But what happens when the ADHD child grows up, the ADHD parent grows old and the roles are reversed?
I’m finding out, firsthand. I spent 10 days with my 84-year-old mom last month, buying diabetic shoes and socks online, ordering grab bars for the bathroom, and investigating scooters and power wheelchairs. I’m going back again this weekend to finish hanging blackout curtains so she can sleep, to order “comfort height” toilets, and to sort more of her clothes and pictures.
She’s in good spirits: She's the same goofy, wonderful, compassionate woman she always was. But her body has betrayed her. Her arthritic knees and creaking joints make walking difficult. She checks her blood sugar four times a day. And she has a timer on her walker to remind her every two hours that it’s time to head for the bathroom. Sometimes she makes it. Sometimes not, especially if we’re telling jokes and she giggles too much. I’ve always known this was coming. It’s inevitable that if our parents live to old age, they will need us in an entirely different way than before. The child becomes the parent. Which is difficult for both of us.
Mom was never diagnosed with ADHD, but I have a hunch she would qualify. The tipoff: Her doctor prescribed amphetamines once upon a time when my mom wanted to diet. She lost a bit of weight, but even better, she got the entire house cleaned up at once! Other clues: She used to tell me that if everyone would leave her alone for a week, she could get things “caught up”, she knitted a pair of pink mittens that were originally destined to be a pink sweater (she decided she didn’t need to finish that darned sweater after all!), she taught me about the consequences of being late (we missed my ballet solo because we didn’t get to the auditorium on time), and she taught me about exuberance and creativity and giddy happiness at being alive.
Now she’s teaching me about patience and forgiveness. I know more than I really wanted to know about assisted living and Medicare and cortisone shots. Yet I’m grateful that she’s still here so she can tell me the same stories over and over. I listen and laugh as if they’re all new to me.
It’s a distraction, this pull to return home. I’ve rearranged ADHD coaching client appointments and shuffled my life to the back burner. I try to focus, then inexplicably, I find myself perusing websites for power scooters and lift chairs. I daydream about life without her, shudder in dread, then make another flight reservation. I want to be with her and my dad as often as possible.
The ADHD child caring for the aging ADHD parent -- now there’s a task that absolutely requires attention. You’re gonna see more and more of it in the coming years. I’ll keep you posted on my journey. And in the meantime, I’ve gotta find a stylish hat that covers mom’s thinning hair. Even at 84, you want to look your best when your daughter comes to visit.
Are you caring for an aging ADHD parent? What have you learned from your experience. Share your advice in a comment below.