Aging Parents: Flexibility

When our goal is to help aging parents regain an interest in life, assuming they once had it (if they never did, a behavior change is unlikely), it makes sense to keep two issues in mind: our parents’ flexibility as well as our own. These issues will impact the ease and satisfaction of reaching our goal–be it to have our parents leave their home or apartment to go anywhere but the doctor or to once again become engaged in life.

Young people who are basically healthy (physically and emotionally) are usually fairly elastic–physically more flexible and emotionally more able to rebound unscathed from emotional upsets. (Think teenagers, who are in despair one day and on top of the world the next.) But at a certain point in the aging process this elasticity or flexibility begins to decrease. If this weren’t the case, why are there countless exercise programs and where did that old saying “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” come from?

The analogy, that speaks to the mental part of this equation, conveys the idea that old dogs are set in their ways–inflexible; not a flattering analogy to an aging parent to be sure. And yet most adult children of aging, old and very old parents have probably experienced the inflexibility–sometimes puzzling– that comes with age.

Do older people seem inflexible because hanging onto certain ways of doing things that have worked for them in the past gives a sense of security that they don’t want to put at risk? And how elastic are we, in understanding the insecurities and reasons that seem to frustrate our attempts when we try to help?

We ponder these questions and how they impact vacationing with aging parents and providing other opportunities to help them regain or increase their interest in life; and we realize one size doesn’t fit all. But if we keep flexibility in mind, as well as the importance of empowering, and if we think about using the “I need your help” phrase when appropriate, we can hopefully find at least some of these strategies useful as we try to help our parents age well.

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