When Aging Parents Do Become Old: Is There a Tipping Point–2

Unseen Physical Changes–Hearing and Vision– and Self-Image

1. Hearing loss and vision changes can affect quality of life in profound ways, leading people to feel old. Hearing loss is isolating if not attended to, removing people from interactions with others, from stimulation…from what has been a normal part of life since birth.  The solution–a hearing aid–takes getting used to. Many older people don’t have the patience and settle for a reduced quality of life. Do they rationalize that hearing loss is a part of getting old and incorporate “old” into their self-image?

On the other hand, many vision changes that accompany aging can be easily corrected with glasses and excellent lighting. Yet more serious conditions call for more serious interventions involving doctors, medications, and sometimes procedures that can tip older people’s self-image from “aging” to “old.”

Recently retired Senior Advisor S. RN, whose active nursing and case management career has included countless seniors over many decades, says she has observed that seniors switch to “old” when the control they’ve always maintained regarding their body no longer exists.  Do hearing loss and serious vision impairment, taken for granted over many years, qualify as this lack of control?

Health issues (ie. heart, stroke) and surgeries are good candidates for tipping the balance. Most are scary and drain energy. They may well result in some loss of control and the need to rethink one’s lifestyle to the point where aging parents think of themselves as “old.”

But nothing conveys “you’re old” and challenges older people’s self-image more than thoughtless interactions with strangers (which I’ve written about in several posts). While we can’t control, we can diffuse the impact.

How? By supporting aging parents’ self-esteem, parents’ competence–whether attacked by health issues, age-related physical changes, or the thoughtless comments of individuals. Legitimizing feelings of self-worth and sharing that we care and are interested enhance self-image and help parents age well. (Note in the last post how that this has empowered Sr. Advisor R.)

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