Aging Parents, Set In Their Ways. Can They Change? Thinking Twice About Holiday or Non-Holiday Gifts in 2013

Set In Our Ways? Creatures of Habit?
Open to Change? 

I remember, when I was very young, overhearing my dad’s concerned conversation about his widowed sister’s not being interested in remarrying. As I recall he said something to the effect that if she waited too long, she’d be set in her ways, and then she’d never remarry.

At that age all I knew was Cinderella, pictures of beautiful brides, and Prince Charming. How could she not want to remarry? What was “set in her ways?”

The conversation made no sense, but I’m remembering and understanding these many years later.

  • being rigid (resistant to change)
  •  being a creature of habit
  •  being uncomfortable with–rather than excited by– new things.

It seems to me all of the above qualify as “set in her/their ways.”

And here is the path that contributes to being set in her/their/our ways….

In youth and young adulthood, we’re most likely excited to try new things. That’s how we learn. It’s part of growing up.

As we age we establish routines and patterns that work for us. They become familiar, comfortable. Think: routes we prefer driving, ways of loading and emptying the dishwasher– unrelated things that become habits over the years.

It seems probable that the confidence of our middle-age years decreases—due to normal aging changes (vision, hearing, memory), dramatic health events, or less energy and willingness to make the effort. For example, a new washing machine with the latest technology, can send formerly fearless, confident seniors to put on glasses and carefully read the instructions—or phone someone for help–before daring to press one gleaming button.

What I am fairly certain of is that when people start getting old, maintaining the status quo—if it’s working– over-rides almost everything else. And this makes change difficult. (Even our “with-it” Sr. Advisor, R, at age 98, says she’s now much more reluctant to change anything unless absolutely necessary).

Change impacts habits as well as confidence. It requires adaptation, which—especially for aging parents and old people–can seem strange or seriously threaten their comfort level.

What Does “Older Parents and Holiday Gifts” Have To Do With It?

Finally 2 rather dramatic examples (but they make the point), applicable to gifts: In his late 80’s Dad needed a new car. Seemingly the new model, same make, no changes (he and my brother checked), would cause no problems. Wrong.  One—to us—minor change.

The car door lock used a PIN, instead of a key. Dad was a creature of habit. He had to remember the PIN. What if that computer chip or whatever failed, or he forgot, and got locked out? He had confidence in a key. He drove the new, specially-ordered car back to the dealership the same day, asked if they could find him a new previous year’s model with the old locking device.  And they did….in Alaska…for a hefty price.

Ditto, almost–many years ago with my husband’s 80-something-year-old grandmother whose old stick-shift Plymouth was getting hard for her to drive. That said, she loved the car and loved driving. Her son bought her a new car with automatic transmission, which he assumed would be easier. She missed the stick-shift; couldn’t get used to the new Plymouth’s automatic transmission.  Drove it less than a month. Finally drove it in the garage and never drove again.

Changes major and minor impact aging parents’ and older people’s lives significantly. Something to think about in the New Year if changes that involve any bit of new technology are a possibility and you can’t be Johnny or Joni on the spot to explain and help.  And something to think about now as we contemplate holiday gifts for older people…who may be set in their ways. While the gift below looks tempting, check first–it may not be welcome.


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

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