Aging Parents: Slowing Down? Struggling To Keep Up?–2 (Disorganized-but-Functioning and Poorly Functioning Parents)

“Older people don’t want to be rushed”
(by their children or anyone else)

We heard it from an organized aging parent, who values maintaining control, in last Saturday’s post. So we aren’t clueless. But it’s a “heads up.” When doing things with older parents–even with parents who live orderly, organized lives–we need to allow extra time so we don’t need to rush, subjecting ourselves–and them–to more pressure than already exists.

People’s level of functioning does diminish with age; they slow down. It gets harder to get dressed, for example. This doesn’t happen all at once, and it doesn’t happen to everyone at the same time of life.

Senior Advisor, psychiatrist Dr. Bud points out there’s a difference by decades. In general, people in their 70’s don’t complain much about rushing; those in their 80’s feel it more since “physical integrity” and strength change more noticeably; those in their 90’s feel it acutely.

Dr. Bud calls “not wanting to rush one of the ‘subtleties of aging.’ It’s tied to a physical feeling,” he says, “of having the ability to accommodate the need to rush.” (Slowing down no doubt triggers that feeling.) We rush without thinking much–if anything–about it when we’re young. Yet feeling “slowed down”ultimately accompanies aging. It can produce annoyance and resentment, making aging parents–whether organized all their lives or not–cranky and irritable when we make it an issue.

#2 Example (continued from last Saturday): Disorganized but Functioning

It helps to understand they may not have wanted to take so long to do something, but the reality is, it did take that long. Thus they misjudge and are late and if we’re involved and on a tight schedule, it can upset us. So how do we handle it without upsetting them?

Surprise and annoyance make us lose focus. To avoid this, a counseling technique that I’ve found helpful during my career is to ask (ourselves in this instance): What’s the goal?

When our goal is to help parents age well, it’s tricky to support their self-esteem and feelings of independence if we try to speed them up. Our first thought is: “You’re taking too long.” But that’s judgment, will make them defensive, won’t accomplish our goal. So our second thought would be something like: “They don’t want to take that long, but it did take that long, so how to recognize this in a nonjudgmental way that accomplishes our goal?”

2 possible conversations:

1. “I should have planned more time, but we do need to hurry. Can I help?”
2. More structured: “We only have x minutes. How can I help you finish up/get ready?”

Example #3: Poorly Functioning

When aging parents are incapable of organizing, even with help, “What’s the goal?” becomes very important. More precise direction, even taking over, may be necessary when parents can’t “do” for themselves. It’s essential if threats to life and limb are involved.

We learn about child development when we have children. Is “geriatric development” an oxymoron? Understanding issues and reasons (our’s and parents’) is a start. “Angels can do no more,” one of Grandma’s expressions, seems fitting here.


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