Aging Parents’ Needs Unintentionally Overlooked-part 2

Airports–and Answering Machines

An octogenarian tells me that I neglected to mention answering machine messages in Tuesday’s post that discusses imperfect hearing and the problems aging parents can have understanding unseen voices that convey important information. How thoughtless of me. How astute of her!

Haven’t we all–young or old–received messages on answering machines and voice mail where important information (a call-back number, a meeting time, even the name of the caller) is said so quickly or softly it’s unintelligible, even when replayed at a higher volume?

Evidently one smart 80-something-year-old woman with hearing problems has put the following instructive message on her answering machine: “please speak slowly and clearly and loud enough when leaving your message.” Adult children can and should mention this message idea to older parents, especially those hampered by hearing loss. It makes sense for so many reasons. And asking if parents want to put the message on by themselves or have help doing it shouldn’t seem like an intrusion. It’s so sensible and scores another plus in our efforts to help our parents age well.
* * *
Now airport strategies: While I clearly oppose the concept of becoming parents to our parents (unless our parents are mentally incapable), there are two potentially helpful strategies for getting around in airport terminals that can alleviate worries for older people while contributing to their adult children’s peace of mind.

The first concerns a provision that allows parents to accompany unaccompanied minors to the gate, which of course necessitates identification etc. etc. and can vary from airline to airline. But it has a flip side that enables adult children to accompany their aging parents to the gate in the same way parents arrange to accompany their young children to the gate. Simply the thought of having a responsible family member there is supportive and can reduce worry for aging parents. It can make the getting-to-the-gate-and-on-the-plane aspect–which is stressful at best these days–relatively stress-free.

Some of my friends were critical of the fact that I “let” my father travel alone on airplanes when he was in his early 90’s; my mother-in-law travels alone at age 96. It seems logical that once up in the air flight attendants are better trained than we (unless we’ve had special training) to handle problems that occur. Initially I got the special pass to accompany my father and my mother-in-law to the gate, because they both liked to–and could–walk. Assuming a responsible, punctual person can be at the other end to meet aging–and elderly– parents, is there any reason why people in their 80’s and 90’s shouldn’t fly alone?

The second strategy involves the wheel-chair. As terminals grow, walking distances increase, and at a certain point, both my father and my mother-in-law ended up ordering wheel chairs to get them efficiently to the boarding area. It’s reassuring to know that attendants not only push wheel chairs and see that passengers get on the correct plane easily, but provide another set of eyes and ears and they’re usually pleasant companions. In addition, a wheel chair can make a carry-on-bag–often too heavy for older people–easy to bring along. (When my dad learned about the carry-on luggage option, he gave up walking and enjoyed wheel chair rides for the last 2 years of his life.)

Travel is invigorating; we all know that. It adds knowledge, fosters relationships, can provide some exercise and usually provides fun. All are a plus for aging well.

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