A conversation with Dr. Farideh Bagne, PhD, JD

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Dr. Bagne's Oakland Press Lifestyle Column

Making decisions with the assistance of your loved ones


Dear Reader,

I will be writing a column for the Oakland Press on a periodic basis. My column will address the seniors’ issues of concern, memories of the past or moments of joy in everyday life.

If you have memories to share or questions you wish to be answered, please contact me.

Our question of the day is: How much should we allow our loved ones to make our decisions for us?

Let’s look at a typical family situation. Mary is an 81-year-old mother of two daughters, Jane and Julie and one son, Harry. The grown children are all married and have teenage children of their own. All three and their spouses are professionals with high salaries. Mary has had her home for the last 30 years. She has no mortgage but quite a bit of maintenance. Mary also has a home in Bay City on the water which is again free of any mortgage. The family uses the Bay City home strictly for family get-togethers once a year. Mary pays all expenses of both houses.

 Even with a large family, she feels lonely and isolated. She worries about her health and its effect on her children’s lives. She wants to live in an independent senior community, where she does not have to worry about cooking, cleaning or maintaining the two houses. Most importantly, she would like the safety of knowing that if she gets a chest pain in the middle of the night, senior community caregivers would take care of her and that she would not have to wake up her son or daughters at odd hours and worry them. 


With the help of her friend, she found a beautiful senior independent community with stunning views of a park. She visited the community with her two daughters and picked a unit that fits her needs: high-ceiling, glorious views, washer and dryer in the unit, full kitchen – truly everything she had wished for.

Jane and Julie encouraged their Mom to sign a lease. Mary perfectly qualified for the monthly rent and after signing the lease with tears of joy in her eyes she thanked her daughters for their assistance.

Mary contacted a reliable Real Estate Agent and signed a contract to sell her house. The sisters promised to help their Mom move and Mary announced to her friends and neighbors that she soon was moving to a senior independent community.

A week later, her son, Harry heard about Mary’s decision.

Mary had always paid for his children’s school, clothing and vacation at Bay City. Upon hearing the news, Harry became furious that Mary without consultation with him had made a decision. A family meeting ensued. Harry, the oldest of the three, argued with Jane and Julie that their Mom is not capable of making decisions and that she could not financially afford such a change of lifestyle.

He then angrily started accusing his two sisters of conspiring behind his back. Mary was caught in the middle. Harry continuously reminded Mary of her obligations to her grandchildren by playing the guilt card while Jane and Julie defended their Mom’s decision reminding Harry that it is Mary’s life that matters not the future education of his children.

Mary became extremely depressed. She could not stop crying and continuously doubted her own ability to make decisions. Caught in the middle, Mary spent many sleepless nights trying to choose between her own happiness and pleasing her son, all the while the sisters and brother arguing and fighting.

After one week of sleepless nights, fits of crying and unsuccessfully attempting to keep the peace in the family, Mary had a heart attack. She was directly admitted to the nearby hospital. She is now recuperating at a skilled nursing facility without knowing where she will end up.

Family members often try to help a senior parent make a decision whether or not the parent needs or requests such assistance.

Every senior must understand that it is his / her life that is at stake and not the family members. It is advisable for seniors to make their own decisions about the time that is right for them to move out of their home to start a new life in a senior community. Otherwise the family members will make decisions that may adversely affect their lives.

These are a few tips for handling family members who are insistent on believing that they know better what is right for you:

1 Meet with a non-family member such as your minister, lawyer, accountant, advisor or trusted friend and discuss your fears and concerns about continuing to stay at home.

2 With their help go over your financial obligations and income and decide how much you can afford to spend monthly to live in a senior community.

3 Gently bring up the subject with your family about your concerns (your health, driving, loneliness, house maintenance and other issues) and get their feedback.

4 Make your decision and stick with it. You need to let your loved ones know that you are capable of making decisions and that, only you know what is best for you.

5 Do not allow guilt feelings to dissuade you from what is right for you.

6 Finally, by standing up and defending your decisions, your disapproving family members may at first disagree, but soon will go along if they truly love and respect you.

 Bagne can be reached by phone at 248-681-8000, or by email at frbagne@magnoliabythelakes.com 


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