Help Aging Parents: Getting It Done at Holiday Time or Any Time

2012 Museum of Natural History Christmas Tree

Countless pieces of hand-folded paper creatures–beautifully made, wonderfully arranged. I marvel at this amazing Christmas tree, and all that went into creating it.  And then I think about the sometimes hard, often mundane, ongoing efforts we make for our aging parents–and how difficult it is to accomplish certain things.

How does this tree, with countless pieces of differing shapes, sizes and colors relate to helping parents age well? Something must unify these pieces in order to get the job done with the results wanted.  And that “something” is knowing how to keep our eye on the ball–avoiding the interruptions and distractions that are part of life today.

The key, then, is remembering to keep front and center in our minds: WHAT’S THE GOAL?

Goals, of course, change. What is our goal at holiday time? Is it–
–to keep parents’ spirits up? or
–to raise them?
–to buy that perfect gift?
–to plan a special outing?
–to include them more?
— to have quality time with them?
–to enjoy quality visits with each other if traveling is involved?
–to take care of medical issues they’ve been putting off?
You can add to the list.

There are always side issues, but we can’t let them interfere with the goal. For example, when far-away-living children travel to visit relatively healthy aging parents–the goal is usually time together. When we’re far-away living children it’s also easy to spot things that need taking care of.

Anne mentioned the other day that her 80+ year-old mother said she (Anne) was always so busy taking care of things when she came to town that they didn’t have enough time to just be together. That resonated. I was a far-away-living child and my 80+ year-old mother said something very similar when she was alive. When I asked how such-and-such would ever get accomplished if I didn’t devote time to it, her answer was not to worry. Being together was more important.

When living near aging parents, there’s usually something that needs attention, depending on how capable the parents are. Fix-it fathers may no longer fix things as well as in their younger years. Things left unattended too long cause inconvenience at the least and major problems at the worst. Either way we need to prioritize after asking ourselves “What’s the goal?”

Unlike finishing the Christmas tree by a certain date, aging parents’ issues can easily get sidetracked. Our personal concerns can preoccupy us. We can be frustrated by time wasted having to deal with substandard work or lack of cooperation from people we depend on. We can be lulled into thinking things will work out.

Take for example a small leg wound that isn’t healing on the fragile, thin skin of an old man. Add a fine physician who carefully checks the wound and prescribes antibiotics. The antibiotics help, there is healing, but then the problem recurs again and again.

A friend’s initial suggestion to go to a hospital’s wound-care center, is rejected by the independent old man, who loves his doctor and respects her professional advice. Months pass. Pain accompanies the wound. More antibiotics. Finally another outsider’s suggestion of a wound-care center is shared with the doctor, who agrees it’s a good idea. By this time the old man requires hospitalization for IV antibiotics and wound cleaning, with follow-up visiting wound care nurses.

Could much of this been avoided early on if WHAT’S THE GOAL was front and center? When Plan A didn’t work, was there a Plan B–assuming the goal was to clear up the nonhealing wound in a reasonable amount of time?

Time is precious for the elderly. We know that. Setting goals and keeping our mind open to the best way to get the job done, helps parents age well–at holiday time or any time.

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