4 Lessons Learned to Help Older Parents and Grandparents Age Well

Getting Out of the Dumps: Don’t Assume, The Incentive, “Normal” Depression, The Results

1. Remembering one of R’s wise sayings “Don’t assume” is something we need to keep in mind. We would have turned down James’s invitation if we had assumed R–at 99 1/2– wouldn’t go to a large gathering, especially when it followed another night out.  (R avoided large gatherings “like the plague”–beginning several years ago– because, she said, they took too much of her energy.)

2.  Our efforts to “jump-start” old people are great and should continue; but their feeling of gaining, not losing, ground has an even greater psychological “jump-start-effect on old people. (See observation below.)

3.  When old people can feel that they’ve moved themselves forward, made progress, accomplished something, the resulting sense of self-worth and satisfaction are more likely to enable them to see things in a different light, take another step forward, have the incentive to make the effort, and/or re-engage. ((Isn’t this true for all of us?)

4. We all get emotionally “stuck” from time to time but, unless very depressed, all bounce back. It may take our elders longer, however, for physical and psychological reasons. (Younger people can bounce back faster due to support of spouses, a large network of friends/colleagues, as well as structured responsibilities, connections, and more energy.)

1 observation which had bearing on the invite acceptance

During–and since–the long ordeal with her leg-wound-healing, R has said several times she’s depressed. Of course she refuses any medication, saying she’s old and that’s just the way it is.  A swollen leg–worse at night–followed the leg wound ultimately healing; and the recommended elastic stockings were difficult to put on so R consciously decided to  skip that. (Depression saps energy; can diminish the will to do; it becomes easy to “pull in.”)

After a lot of thinking, R decided to go back to her old, nonelectric, powered-by-her-feet treadmill, that she hadn’t used since she broke her hip a year-and-a-half ago. Reasoning: if she got the circulation in her legs going, perhaps the swelling would subside. R. says she has learned how important “getting the circulation going” is. “That’s what it’s really about and that means exercise,” she says.

Initially R could barely do 2 minutes and “it was so hard,” she reported (she did 15 minutes before the broken hip episode). In about 2 weeks she worked up to 5 minutes. Two days before the Seder invite, R called to say she had done 8 minutes and the swelling had decreased considerably. She sounded energized. She said she felt much better. She was moving forward.

In efforts to help parents and grandparents age well, ways to help achieve a legitimate goal or reinforce self-worth trump the jump-start. Can we do both?

4 thoughts on “4 Lessons Learned to Help Older Parents and Grandparents Age Well

  1. Good observations; great story of R turning herself around! How can we help to jump-start the self-incentive?

    • Such a good question, Elke. I’m speculating. Perhaps the first thing would be to help an aging person think that it’s his or her idea to reach an attainable goal–one that helps him or her age/feel/do better? Then gently offer support when appropriate, if s/he seems to buy into the idea, about how to attain that goal. If we subscribe to the theory that the more a person invests him/herself in the “doing,” the better the odds are for success, it seems to me that would be the model to follow. ….Thoughts?

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