Aging Parents: The Importance of Psychological Support from Adult Children

Children with good parents feel a certain confidence knowing they’re supported. We’re talking about that warm, taken-care-of feeling that comes with knowing someone is on our side and truly understands and cares about us. While this also applies to aging parents, it’s the first time I’ve written about the subject.

I realize, at this point in life, feeling she has our support is very important to my m-i-l. Knowing she’s 101, a knee-jerk reaction from people would be: “What do you expect?” What I know is that she has been independent and amazing in almost all aspects of her life, having–and surviving–old age issues much later in life than the vast majority of elderly people. (See Broken Hip Recovery tab above.)

In the last few days of our ended-yesterday visit out west, R mentioned several times how much she “appreciates my support.” My translation: doing a lot of listening; not minimizing her travails; and lifting her spirits by words or deeds.

Words: Specifically Conversations Concerning Parents’ Problems

Unfortunately at her first appointment a year ago, with an ophthalmology specialist for the blood clot which caused much vision loss in one eye, R was told she could lose the vision in her other eye “any time.” Whether or not he used those exact words, who knows? But her mind and memory are quite good. Whatever the words, she has had constant worry–for a year now.

When people live alone (with a diminished social network and plenty of time to think), it’s easy to dwell on problems and become depressed. That’s when my counseling training automatically kicks in–

Words and Listening

Really listening is a skill. We usually hear and respond in ways that seem appropriate and there’s nothing wrong with that.  But really listening can put us in the other person’s head and allows us to show understanding with a simple phrase (e.g. “it must be so hard,” “it sounds very frustrating”)–few words; no advice.

Example: the phone call several days ago. R was not a happy camper. Her vision loss has made daily life hard work. She insists on living in her home with help only 4 hours, once-a-week, from a cleaning woman. She can’t change her decreasing energy or drooping eye-lids (she’s too old for surgery to correct that). Reading is difficult, etc. etc. She’s resourceful and finally found a strong-enough hand-held magnifying glass, but needs the other hand to prop up at least one eye-lid in order to read. She’s tech-averse (can’t use a museum’s accoustiguide); went to a low-vision store and rejected reading machines.

R doesn’t want advice unless she asks for it. She has successfully figured things out for herself all her life. So I listen carefully and process what she’s saying, wondering if going almost blind in the better eye is as predictable as it sounds. Indeed it could be. Her major worry is vision in that eye–going at any moment. After saying something like “I know it’s very scary,” I shared accurate, positive (not PolyAnnaish) thoughts with her:

  • In the last 12 months she hasn’t lost the vision in the other eye (she says it’s getting worse; I just listen).
  • I wondered how many people her age that doctor has seen (she doubts many, if any).
  • I respond he’s probably using her as an example to give hope to those younger. (She laughs and agrees I’m probably right.)
  • I conclude by saying her internist says she’s in excellent health for an old person. Might that serve her vision well? (She names all her exercises, healthy foods and vitamins and repeats that her internist thinks she’s exceptional in the healthy way she lives.) Her spirits lift; she’s focusing on the reasons she’s doing well.

Deeds (unexpected treats lift spirits)

Halloween is almost upon us. I’ve been decorating pumpkins. I’ve learned never to foist anything on R that takes up space or requires work, without asking. So, in the same phone conversation, I next tell R about the pumpkins, saying I have a very small, not heavy, pumpkin I would decorate if she’d like. She was noncommittal…if I wanted to make one, bring it over and if she doesn’t want it I can give it to someone else or she will. As we hang up she says, in a heartfelt way, that she feels better and really appreciates my support.

Bottom line, R loves the pumpkin! We took it to her before leaving town overnight for a 95th birthday celebration. I phoned R when we returned, She greeted me with how much she appreciated my support. Said she placed the pumpkin where she “sees it each time she enters the room.” Also says she thinks her healthy diet may help her better eye, and that the ophthalmologist probably never had a patient as old as she… AND she’s praying that her eye’s vision lasts as long as she.

There are many ways to help aging parents. Really listening–true listening–is one. And isn’t the unexpected deed (pumpkin) like frosting on a cake!

Note: Newsworthy (right sidebar). Links to timely research and information from respected research institutions and prominent others–to help parents age well.