The loss of a home at an advanced age

The loss of a home, because of economic circumstances or because of the physical or emotional incapacity of the older person to maintain himself independently, brings problems of its own. To live with one's children may be an excellent solution but often brings with it many emotional and psychological difficulties. The parent who attempts to deny his increasing age and his loss of power or independence may not only seek to resume his previous authoritative relationship to his children but may exaggerate it to the point of tyranny. He is made unhappy by any display of independence or difference of interests in his children. He will interfere with all activities and insist on special prerogatives and privileges as an older, wiser, and respected person. He may attempt to exact filial obedience to the point of complete subjugation. Old jealousies are revived and increased and the aged mother may compete with her children for the affection of her grandchildren, of the servants in the house, of the "in-laws," or even of the neighbors. Old hostilities are revived and aggravated on both sides, with the children who had felt themselves rejected or thwarted in their childhood, attempting unconsciously, or even consciously, to get revenge on their parents.

In addition to the usual irritations, this may arouse guilt feelings in the children and disturb their emotional equilibrium. When the condition of the parent demands much care because of chronic illness or debility, the problems are likely to become so severe that, to prevent illness on the part of the children and serious emotional disturbances on the part of the grandchildren, other living arrangements must be considered. The struggle between the older parent and his children may resolve itself with the parent becoming submissive, withdrawn, and quite unhappy. The parent may become completely dependent, demanding attention to the point of developing illnesses and exaggerating pains and incapacities. Often this is the only satisfaction the parent gets in a situation in which he feels thwarted, and where his own personal interests and activities are markedly circumscribed by, probably, an unconsciously hostile oversolicitude of his children. What happens when an older mother or father comes to live with a married child, of course, again depends on his previous relationship with this child, on his previous adjustments, and on his present interests. Not only must his own welfare be considered, but also that of the rest of the family, most especially that of the youngsters growing up in the household. On the basis of the individual situation, or perhaps on the basis of a trial, it may prove that the best adjustment is permanent residence in the child's home, or that a transitory stay only is advisable there. Living with children will often succeed, but if it does not and if factors are present which cannot be changed, and which will doom the attempt to failure, then living in the home of a stranger or in a special institution for the aged should be resolutely advised and worked for.

Wherever the aged one may live, he will fare much better if he has a room of his own. We know that prisoners of war were hopeless and apathetic when first captured and that their hopes and interests revived as soon as they could hang a picture of their own, or have a bunk or a little corner which was theirs. With all persons it is important, but much more so with the aged, that they have a place which they can keep in any kind of state they wish, where they can accumulate and hoard, within reason, the little symbols of their past power and their present security. Their own rooms represent to them psychologically much more than we are likely to think when we are younger.

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