Acting in Your Best Interests

Why do we do things that we know are bad for us, or choose not to do things that we know are good for us?  Is it just a matter of not thinking through the consequences, or do we consciously make the decision to thwart our own success?

Little Rose, 12 months old, simply doesn’t know better.  She’ll reach for something that could burn her, or cut her, or otherwise harm her, because she doesn’t have the experience base to know that she shouldn’t play with those things.  Clearly personal experience plays a role in the decision making process.  But do we really have to endure all manner of negative consequences to understand that doing a bYcertain thing is really not a good idea?

I have what my children probably think is an annoying habit of saying, “Intelligence is learning from your own mistakes.  WISDOM is learning from the mistakes of others.” You will avoid quite a bit of heartbreak or injury if you are astute enough to see where others have made poor choices, and steer clear of them yourself.

So does increasing maturity convey ever-increasing avoidance of bad choices?  You’d think so, wouldn’t you?  However, it seems that the “second childhood” encompasses doing things you know you shouldn’t be doing nearly as much as your first childhood.  My grandmother, for instance, has no business trying to tackle any number of stairs (unless that number is zero), and her last obstinate attempt left her pinkie toe barely hanging on and in need of multiple stitches.  Thankfully, it was only two steps and not an entire flight of stairs, and she did not manage to re-injure her pelvis, which she had fractured at a relatively recent fall.

Why does she continue to try to maneuver on the stairs?  Sometimes I think it’s because she’s not willing to admit that she’s not capable of doing the same things she used to be able to do.  Sometimes I think she’s just incapable of thinking through the possible consequences if she chooses to do something ill-advised (and since she’s been diagnosed with mild dementia, I suspect this is often true).  And sometimes it seems like she’s just trying to be defiant.

We are still trying, unsuccessfully, to convince her husband to move in with us as well. He doesn’t want to give up his independence. But his falls are becoming more frequent, and causing more severe injuries each time. Each time I ask him to come stay with me, he refuses.

There are many things that I do that are just as capable of thwarting my best interests.  I tend to procrastinate when I should be doing something.  I sometimes eat things I shouldn’t, and often am not as active as I should be (especially in the winter).  But where is the line between small, acceptable things that we do that aren’t the best things for us, and when we have become a downright hazard to ourselves?

When someone has a drug or alcohol addiction, there comes a point in time at which the people who love them have to intervene in order to keep them safe.  Often the person with the addiction is resentful of the people who “ganged up on them” in order to get them the help they need.  But usually they come to realize that the intervention was done out of love.

Why do we have so much trouble doing the same thing for the elderly?  There comes a point in time at which mental and/or physical difficulties mean that it is no longer safe for them to live alone.  We don’t want to tell an adult that they can’t retain their independence, that they need to consider relying on someone to help them.  But are we really doing them a favor by letting them have their way?  In truth, they are a danger to themselves, and if they are still driving, a danger to others as well. Where do we draw the line?  At what point do we determine that their refusal to accept help needs to be overridden by concerned family members?

Again, I don’t have the answer.  This is a continuing issue, and one that I feel very strongly about.  I would greatly appreciate your input on this volatile subject.  Do you think we should pressure a loved one into a family member’s home or nursing home when they themselves do not want it?  Or should we allow them to choose to live alone, even if we know it will cause them harm?

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