Older adults can make decisions for themselves
August 13, 2018

Q:  I am a mature woman, I prefer that description rather than saying I am getting old. I am independent and the only instance I need to hire help is in my yard. I admit I have a slight mobility issue but I am not confused and believe I use good judgment. I frequently socialize with friends and neighbors. I always seek medical care on a regular basis. My biggest frustration is how my adult children respond to me. I am always getting unsolicited advice on what I should and should not do since I live alone. I am sure this occurs out of concern but after a while it is aggravating and demeaning. Why do they assume just because I am of a certain age I am no longer capable of managing my own affairs?

A:   There are certainly occasions when it is not only appropriate but absolutely necessary for adult children or other family members to step in and start making decisions for an older adult as in situations where the elder has significant cognitive deficits or another disability makes it impossible for them to function independently. What you are describing is an entirely different situation.

Since the 1990s, “helicopter parents” has been a fairly recognizable description of parents who constantly hover over their children. What some of our readers may not be aware of is the emergence of “helicopter” adult children who are becoming overprotective of their aging parents. Their behavior may be a result of the best of intentions but it too often sends the wrong message to their parents: You are incapable and I know better.

There is a fine line between caring for a parent and taking over or trying to control them. Dr. Laura Carstensen, founding director of Stanford University’s Center on Longevity, and Dr. Gisele Wolf-Klein, a New York geriatrician, both state unless a parent is cognitively impaired children need to respect a parent’s decision. Some adult children worry about what could happen and simply take over. Sometimes this behavior occurs to ease their own worries, they want to protect their parent or they honestly believe they are acting with the best of intentions. There are even times an adult child isn’t even aware of their helicopter behavior and how their parent feels disrespected.

Professionals in the field of aging and community services are available to assist families in navigating their caregiving roles. The goal of this column is to provide accurate up-to-date information on relevant topics for older adults and or their caregivers. Occasionally a question is presented to us and we hope it will ultimately spark a conversation among family members. If this scenario applies to you have a heart to heart dialogue with your loved ones to “clear the air.”


Are you struggling caring for an older adult or having difficulty locating resources? Our staff is available for a no-cost consultation, set up at your convenience, to help guide you through your caregiving experience. For more details or to schedule an appointment, please call 800-892-0890.

Do you have a question? We encourage inquiries and comments from our readers. Please direct your correspondence to or Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley, Inc., Age Information Department, 280 Merrimack Street, Suite 400, Lawrence, MA 01843. Joan Hatem-Roy is the CEO of Elder Services.

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