Dad won't give up.

Started by

At 90, I admire the fact that he has survived many trials and tribulations. However, he has said that he wants his life sustained at all costs. This is overwhelming for me. He has had colon cancer, bladder cancer and has active prostate cancer that is not being treated. He wanted some medication to help with the leaking/incontinence, which the doctor gave a prescription. Having nothing else to do, he read the entire package insert. He read that this particular medication may cause ovarian or prostate cancer. I tried to let him know that I am sure his doctor feels that the benefits outweigh the risks, but he also doesn't think I have the correct answer to anything. He also got mad at me because I didn't want to ask doctor about the newspaper ad for the incontinence cure pill. He thinks it will work. My thoughts are that he has not accepted the fact that dying is a part of life. He is desperately trying to find something to fix all that ails him. What are some thoughts on this?


He seems to be very focused on his health. You may be right that it reflects a denial of the facts of life and death. Others might praise him for not going gently into that good night.

Either way, all this talk about medications and health issues must get tiring, boring, and frustrating for others. Can you try to avoid these topics and redirect the conversation when he goes there? If you don't have the correct answer to anything, there really is no point in giving him answers, is there?
It seems that his life has only become about his health or bodily functions. The only activity he does is take his scooter across the street to pick up scripts or a few groceries. Yes it has become extremely tedious. His hearing has declined to the point that his aids barely work. These things make it very difficult to talk about anything. He is also at the point that when I try to explain something to him he will get that glazed look in his eye and I know he isn't comprehending what I say. I am just very stressed and tired.
Dear sslk,

Its so hard caring for an elderly parent. After many years its only natural and normal to lose all patience. I think your dad has a right to seek out all and any treatments he wants to prolong his life. It is his life. And you too have a right to tell him, if you are feeling burned out. I know you have done so much for him already. I tried to be the advocate for my dad too. But after his stroke the day to day care had taken a toll on me. I couldn't see or hear straight anymore. I was consumed with anger about why is dad asking me this? Why can't dad just listen? And it escalated from there till his passing. Now I am filled with regret about my dad's care. I should have stepped back and tried to get more help instead.
sslk1960, do you live with your Dad? Do you perform a lot of caregiving tasks for him?
Sslk, you say your father isn't comprehending what you say. But my guess is that you are not saying what he wants to hear.

He doesn't want to die. But we all die, and he, at 90 and gravely ill, is closer to it than most.

He wants a solution to the distressing and distasteful symptoms he is experiencing. He may also have or be afraid of painful symptoms, and wants to know that these will be wholly avoidable. But you cannot give him that reassurance.

Depending on what pain relief he is currently prescribed, you might also want to make allowances for the possibility that he could be as high as a kite. Which would make trying to connect him with stark reality more difficult; but on the upside save him from the worst of the fear and pain.

So what should you do? Try to see his situation through his eyes, put yourself in his shoes, go with him. When he wants to know about miracle cures, remind him that you are not a doctor, you cannot comment, and he must ask his own doctor himself. If you're not terribly impressed with the current doctor, see if you can find one with a special interest in end-of-life care to take over.

But why insist on his facing reality? I am absolutely not someone who believes in keeping the truth from people who have a right to know it, especially if they are asking questions. But I feel just as strongly that when someone consistently refuses to hear the truth and clearly prefers to deny it, there is no benefit to them in forcing them to accept it.

Your mission is to comfort and ease your father's end-of-life period and then his passing. Nothing you or anyone else can do will alter the outcome. So do what it takes: lie cheerfully, if that's what he wants. Talk nonsense. Offer all the bromides and platitudes you can think of. This is what placebos are for: to make people feel better.

Just keep checking that this is what he wants, and be ready with the truth - line up a spiritual adviser in case, perhaps - should he change his mind.

My Mom has in the past expressed this same desire. Maintain life at all cost. But, this was before her dementia really took hold. Now, even if she no longer wanted is too late.

She cannot communicate any more. What little she does manage to say or write that comes out as actual words usually mean nothing in the context.

It must be terrible to be trapped inside a body and mind that holds you a prisoner.

I am sorry for all the 90 years olds.....old age ain't for sissys
sslk, I know what you're talking about. There is a magic pill out there that will make everything better. The TV tells them these things every day. If they only take a certain pill or wear a certain device, then life will be rosy again. Of course, we know it isn't true when people reach a certain age. Sometimes these pills have unintended effects that can be worse than what they're treating. What I've learned to do with my mother is not respond at all. I know that no pill or body brace is going to make her 40 again. There is no incontinence pill that will help, since the problem is urinary urgency upon standing and walking very slowly to the bathroom. I've been with her a long time now, so I have to turn a deaf ear to her complaints. It makes me feel rather cold, but I know there is nothing that I or anyone else can do to make her 90-year old body 40 again.

I wish there was a pill that could make us younger again. My 65-year old body is starting to have aches and pains. It would be great to have a pill to make the pain and stiffness go away. I can sympathize with the older people, but know that there is no magic pill. It reminds me of the old search for the fountain of youth.
My father (both parents, actually) was an old school immigrant. He was born in extremely deplorable conditions in a very rural village of Northern India; no antibiotics, no toilet, no electricity for luxuries like heat and air conditioning, no running water, etc. Yes...every American's worse nightmare. We are so spoiled compared to some other countries! My father had a fight or die instinct because this was the only way to survive in his generation and circumstances and this attitude, this drive to persevere stayed with him when he established permanent residency in this country.

He refused to be a DNR - and it was horrific for me and for my mother to watch his suffering; I still have nightmares. Seriously. It was a mess what happened to him. His doctors talked to him about being a DNR. I talked to him. Home health RN talked to him. He refused and ignored every attempt because he was stubborn - he didn't want to leave me and my mother. It was so excruciatingly gut-wrenching - no traumatizing - for me to see what he was willing to deal with simply because he loved us so much. He loved his life though he was in such physical pain. He had no quality of life.

My advice is wait until it gets to a point that he isn't able to communicate his wishes, for example, in an emergency such as he's suffering from a UTI that leads to sepsis or he's having a heart attack - this is when you step in - and him on hospice letting nature take it's course. Trust me - I've been through what you're going through and it's so not worth his suffering - and your suffering because you will have to deal, have to live, with the memory of his pain. Not him. He's gone. I carried out my father's wishes because I didn't want him to hate me, so to speak, and I didn't want to feel like I was killing him by not allowing this or that treatment because he was of sound mind and wanted whatever it took to keep him alive. Looking back...I so regret not stepping in and putting an end to his misery and I would've gotten over my feelings mentioned right above - with a lot of therapy. :-) As soon as my mother showed some decline, I immediately put a DNR on her. I will not allow her to suffer like my father did. No way.
To countrymouse : it's not so much that I want him to face reality the real issue is tjat it's extremely discomforting that he is so scared.
With a signed medical directive....there is really no legal way to "step in" and direct anything contrary to those written wishes...right?

My Moms directive is quite to the point. Spare no effort to keep her alive. And, only after 7 full days and the agreement of two doctors that her vegetative state will not be reversed...only then can she be allowed to pass. Painkillers only.

But, oh lord...I can foresee a time when days of suffering in CCU or ICU would precede this final physician agreement.

Keep the conversation going (or start a new one)

Please enter your Comment

Ask a Question

Reach thousands of elder care experts and family caregivers
Get answers in 10 minutes or less
Receive personalized caregiving advice and support