Aging Parents: Do We Support or (Inadvertently) Cripple Them?

One of the key thoughts in helping parents age well:

Clearly doing what’s better for them is the goal. (Exceptions:–when our health and family functioning are at risk or when parents, who still have a good mind, are unreasonable and disrespectful.)

That said, there are well-meaning actions that can have negative consequences. They affect mobility, self-esteem, and independence. 

It’s easy to do things out of love and wanting to help that are not necessarily in older people’s best interest. It’s easy to do what we think is right–or is the only way we know how–without realizing it isn’t helpful and may, indeed be harmful. What’s at risk? What are the options?


We know the adage: “If you don’t use it, you lose it.” Why then do we–without asking or being asked–do things that prevent elders from using their muscles when, indeed, they can–and should. Difficulty walking and “getting around” impacts quality of life, ultimately making it harder for both elderly parents and adult children.

IMG_24021.  Do we use the handicap parking permit and park as close as we can to the destination? Or are we aware of the fact that it would be better for older people, who are capable of walking farther, to park a reasonable distance away so they get the additional exercise walking provides and strengthen their muscles? (If in doubt, check with parents’ doctor.)

2.  When elders must use a walker, do we pull them up from their seated position? Or do we have them grab onto our wrists or hands (once our feet are firmly planted so we have balance) and pull themselves up–thus strengthening their legs and arms? Also elderly skin is fragile and if we’re pulling it can be bruised.

3.  Do they–and we–have at least one firm chair with arms, that makes it easier to get up from without help? The time may come when arm and leg muscles weaken to the point that getting up from a toilet without the aid of a raised seat or a grab bar is impossible. Mother needed someone to help her get up from the sofa when she was in her mid-80’s; not Dad. His leg muscles were such that he could get out of a chair or off of a sofa without help and he was proud of that. (It’s a good thing to practice for our  eventual old age.)

Shopper (with cane in shopping cart)

Shopper (with cane in shopping cart)

4.  While doing errands at the grocery store, big box stores, TJ Maxx, Home Goods– can we include elders so they get exercise pushing a shopping cart? The sturdiness of the cart offers the support to walk without worry. There’s a certain feeling of freedom and normalcy for those who usually use walkers, canes or have concerns about balance. (Those little electrical scooters and other “vehicles,” don’t offer the exercise.)

**This is getting too long. Independence and Self-esteem tomorrow.**

Changing often: “Of Current Interest” (right sidebar). Links to timely information and research from top universities, plus some fun stuff–to help parents age well.

4 thoughts on “Aging Parents: Do We Support or (Inadvertently) Cripple Them?

  1. Interestingly, I just posted a blog on “What to Do about Mama?” about role reversals (“When Parent-Child Lines become Fuzzy”)….There’s so much to consider: autonomy, safety, independence, dignity…it is difficult. However, it is my feeling that whenever our aging parents have choices with the opportunity to make decisions they feel empowered. With thought and consideration, this approach can be used in most situations.

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