Helping Aging Parents Find Fullfillment

May 23, 2007 — Leave a comment

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A revolution has been brewing and it’s almost upon us. This revolution is the “Age Wave,” – the massive baby-boom generation will soon transform into the largest elderly population in human history. Thanks to our medical advances and lifestyle changes, we are living longer and experiencing less chronic disability in doing so. Also changing: The roles of care givers. Adult children need to redefine what it means for their parents to “act their age.”Generally speaking, our parents, even in their senior years, are much more capable, able-bodied, and healthier than our parent’s parents were in their later years. Through the lines of generations, we have learned how to live a healthier existence. And how we care for and encourage our parents looks different today than in generations past, as well.

These are some positive changes. The studies of people who live to be 100-years-old or older have failed to find a single, specific formula for living longer. (There are currently 80,000 people aged 100 or older in the United States, by the way.) There is no evidence that particular foods, supplements, or other substances have anything to do successful aging. However, lifestyle does matter! Strong family ties, healthy food (although no one specific food) and life-long physical activity are the top factors that we see throughout major aging studies.

When it comes to family ties, not everyone is close to their parents. Some of those hard feelings from childhood or adolescence can carry into the later stages of life. The history of attachment between child and parent influence their relationship in mid-and-later life. Attachment is an enduring emotional bond between two people. These intimate attachments are the center of a person’s life. Thus, life-long conflicts and unresolved issues from childhood can make providing support to an aging parent particularly difficult. A range of closeness in bonds exists in all parent-child relationships.

Keep in mind, it’s never too late to develop a closer relationship with one’s parent. The qualities of our relationships are forever revolving, in one direction or another. While we cannot change another person, we can always improve the way we communicate or change the situation to reduce conflict. There are times when an in-depth conversation about a painful past is warranted. Perhaps a minister or counselor can assist in the process of reconciliation. In parent and adult-child dyads, give yourselves permission to know each other as you are today. As your appreciation for the other person grows, feelings and situations are put in perspective and acceptance comes more easily.

It goes back to our attitude. Even HOW we age has to do with our attitudes. One of the best ways to make something happen is to expect it to happen. We don’t want to pretend away our problems, but instead use our wisdom to accept ourselves and others. As we age, we have a wealth of learning experiences to build upon in meeting life’s challenges.

So as we keep in mind our parent’s abilities, we need to support them without doing too much and offending them.

SHOW UP
Call often and visit as frequently as you can. Call just to check-in without needing anything, such as, “Oh, Mom, can you run and go get so-and-so from dance practice.” While that’s O.K. sometimes, mix it up with calls that are for no other reason other than to say, “Hi! I was just thinking about you. How are you doing today?” Listen to them as they discuss their concerns about aging and the future. Be physically involved by touching or embracing them if this seems natural to you or your parent. One mother said to me recently, “While I’m fairly independent and like doing things for myself, deep down I wish I had a little more help. I would love it if one of my adult children would just spend an afternoon with me, offering a helping hand, like pulling weeds, or a little deep cleaning, and an opportunity to visit together.”

And yet, as much as possible, it’s important to create safe independence.

CREATE SAFE INDEPENDENCE
Encourage them to have hopes, dreams, ambitions, and new goals. Encourage their independence rather than providing them with direct services. If they want a change in scenery, rather than taking them somewhere, help them plan a trip or outing they can manage on their own. “Use it or lose it” applies to both body and mind. The busier and more active we all are, the better! Assist them with the activities that will increase their quality of life and independence; figuring out bus routes, or even how to have groceries or hot meals delivered to the home for their convenience.

Something else to keep in mind–it’s easy to include our parents last-minute, like an after-thought, instead of making plans together.

MAKE PLANS TOGETHER
One dear mother mentioned, “My kids think I can handle most things. But one of the hardest things for me is that I feel so out of place. I’m the tag-along now. I used to be the center of things.” Instead of planning events with your own family and calling up mom and dad and say, “Hey wanna join us”ââ?¬Â¦plan events with them! “Mom, dadââ?¬Â¦what do you think we should do for Memorial Day weekend? Or, what should we do for Christmas? What would you like to have happen this year?”

ENCOURAGE RECIPROCITY
It’s easier to accept help when you can also give it. Most of us derive satisfaction from helping others. Ask them for advice. Encourage them to share their abilities and talents with others. Opportunities to use their wisdom increases self-respect and peace of mind. Sometimes a person’s most important work is done later in life. Independence is a boost to the soul. People who are treated as needy and helpless become more needy and helpless. We need to offer encouragement and social support to our parents. And, when it comes to doing tasks, keep mom and dad in charge.

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Dr. Liz Hale

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