There are times when it is ok to force people to do things they don’t want to do.

By Steve Moran

This is a very uncomfortable article to write. But I find myself coming to believe . . . against conventional thinking and current wisdom . . . there are times when it is ok . . . not ok . . . better than ok . . . even the 110% right thing to do . . . to force people to do things they don’t want to do.

I am talking residents and team members.

I have actually been thinking about this for months and honestly been horrified by it. The idea of forcing someone to do what they don’t want to do  . . . what they are actively resisting, seems on the surface, horrifying whether talking about residents or team members. And yet more and more I am thinking there are times when this is absolutely the right thing to do.

That it is even a lifesaving thing to do.

My Mom

Nine months ago my mother, who is 84, had a stroke. She was already frail and having some memory lapses. The stroke, as it turns out, was fairly mild with the clot not causing a complete blockage. Today she is back home more confused and so weak she gets out of bed rarely except to toilet and seems to have just plain lost her will to live.

Things went really downhill earlier this week; her husband — and primary caregiver — had a heart attack. That midnight call turned into a midnight drive from Sacramento to the bay area where I have been the primary caregiver for my mom.    

It is painful to see her just lie in bed all day, sometimes the TV on and sometimes off. She will hardly eat, seems uninterested in anything. It is as if she is just marking time until death.   

As I have been thinking about this, it dawned on me that in tiny ways I would practice what I have been preaching about creating purpose for senior living residents.

Potato Soup

From the time I was a kid, she would make this potato soup that would be accompanied with gingerbread or cornbread. It has always been my ultimate mom comfort food, even at my more advanced age. I got this idea that mom should make me potato soup. Her making the soup, of course, really means that she sits in the kitchen and tells me what to do.

I got her to tell me the ingredients (hoping she remembered everything) went to the store, got what I needed, and came home ready to make soup.

She refused to get out of bed . . ..

I am a big believer in the idea that all adults have the right to make their own choices, even if it is self destructive and yet . . . she was being self destructive . . . and screwing up my experiment.

I finally went into her room and took what was very much a parental role, telling her that if she did not start doing a better job taking care of herself, she would end up in a nursing home. With a moderate amount of reluctance, she got out of bed, came down to the kitchen, and we made soup together.  

The best part was when I served her a bowl of the soup, she kept telling me she was full then would continue eating until it was gone.  

Using Force . . . of Will

I have come to believe that at times with both residents and team members sometimes force is necessary for their own good. It has to be done with great care and compassion. It can never be done because it will benefit you. In fact, I would argue the only time it is morally acceptable to use force to get someone to do something is when it actually makes your life more inconvenient.  

In the case of my mom, it would have been easiest for me, to just let her stay in bed, so I had to increase my inconvenience to make her get up. I was glad I did and she was glad I did.

Your thoughts?

Her husband?  The heart attack was relatively mild. He had bypass surgery and is doing very well.