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Worries about father with isolated rural life justified

Carol Bradley Bursack, Forum columnist

Dear Carol: My widowed dad is 76. He's in good health and lives alone on a farm several miles from the metro area. Dad drives around the farm and to the neighboring town but stays out of the metro because of the traffic. His nearest neighbors are a couple of miles away. My two siblings and I split the visiting so that someone sees Dad once a week, but with winter weather, the possibility of him going a couple of weeks alone is real. We want him to move to the metro for safety and health care. I'm terrified that something will happen to him out there when the roads are bad and no one will know. How do we get him to see reason? — KT

Dear KT: From the view of an adult child, I can understand your fear and frustration, however, as I can attest from my mail, it's a common problem in farming areas and the solution that adult children want can clash with their parents' wishes.

It sounds as if your dad is someone who could pay a high price if he felt that his independence was taken from him prematurely. I had a neighbor like that, and while I looked after him, he lived alone in his home. I know in my heart that a move to assisted living would have killed him. He did eventually die as a result of a fall at home, but he made the choice of living alone with a clear mind.

Still, your worry is justified. Like most farmers, your dad is isolated by choice. I'm assuming that you've invited him to stay with you, or offered to help him find a retirement home in town, at least for the winters. Considering your letter, I don't have a lot of hope that either of these suggestions would work, but if you haven't brought this up, you can try. Then you will know that you did your best even if he refuses.

One compromise that your dad may be willing to make is to let you set up an unobtrusive electronic system around his house and outbuildings so that you could, by using the app on your phone, see if he's dramatically off schedule. This same software can be set up to get help for him if he needs it, either from your end or his. If you tell him that you'll stop nagging him to move if he'll consider one of these systems, you may gain some peace of mind for you and safety for him.

In my view, people who are healthy and have no cognitive issues should have the right to decide where they want to live. Yes, your dad could fall while he's alone, but so could a young farmer. If he's living the life he wants, he'll be healthier, and independence means more than safety to many older people. Of course, you may have to revisit this issue as age and possible illness take their toll.

Carol Bradley Bursack is an established columnist, blogger, and the author of a support book on caregiving. She hosts a website supporting caregivers and elders at Carol can be reached at