Aging Parents: Slowing Down? Struggling to Keep Up, Rigid?

We notice parents slowing down.
They take more time to do things.
Does their snail’s pace drive us crazy? Do we make them crazy if we try to rush them?
In a fast-paced world of multi-taskers, aging parents can seem out of step–literally. At a certain point we realize they walk slower, drive slower, think slower, ponder longer. Some who were formerly quick decision-makers may seemingly take an eternity to make a decision. It simply takes longer for them to get things done.
4 common reactions from children:
1.  Frustration (can’t stand to see things pile up–or remain unattended; want to take care of whatever or send someone to fix it).
2.  Nerves activated (on a tight time schedule; one foot feels like it’s on the gas pedal, the other on the brake).
3.  Anger/irritation (we’re making the effort, can’t they?)
4.  We do it their way.
3 questions we ask ourselves:
1.  Are they doing the best they can?
2.  Have we a choice of whether or not to participate?
3.  Will forcing them to do it our way, create big problems?
Every parent has a comfort level. Each situation calls for action on our part. Ideally our actions and interactions uphold and reinforce older people’s independence and respect their comfort level. Easier said than done.
Three scenarios follow:
#1, the organized parent, is below.
#2, the basically disorganized, but functioning  parent and #3, the poorly functioning parent conclude next Saturday’s post.
First and easiest: the well-organized parent.  Sr. Advisor R., now 98,  is clearly organized but laments how long it now takes to do things. She plans ahead so she’s always on time with everything and finds last-minute changes or surprises upsetting.
For example, R has errands; I’ve set aside time the next day to take her. Trying to be considerate, I suggest we aim for 11am and offer to phone around 9:30 to make certain the plan is still OK. “You can call as early as 7,” she replies. “If you wake me, it’s fine. I’ll have the information and can go back to sleep. What I don’t want to do is have to rush to get ready….and that’s something  adult children need to know–if they don’t know it already. They need to realize that at a certain point, old/older people don’t like to rush.”
Understandable. As older people slow down, it’s normal to try to hold onto as much of a normal life as possible. When they’re willing to make the effort to get cleaned up and dressed to go out, which takes much more time than it did in their younger years, we need to respect and encourage if we want to help parents age well. So I will telephone R–even as early as 7am–and confirm our plans.
In addition, allow at least 2x the amount of time needed for the errands. And keep in mind that no matter how slow, R. and aging or elderly parents like her will be trying their best…. Which means I also guess we need to keep in mind that their feelings could be hurt if they thought they were causing frustration, irritation, or nervousness in their children. It’s another way we help parents age well.
Note: Next Saturday Part 2 of “Slowing Down.” Sr. Advisor, psychiatrist Dr. Bud, gives us guidance and we address #2: disorganized but functioning and #3 poorly functioning parents.

Check out “Newsworthy” (right sidebar). Links to timely tips, information and research from top universities and respected professionals–to help parents age well.


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