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.

Aging Parents: It’s the Haa, Haa-py-est Time of The Year?

First posted 12/09. A reminder…

Sharing with Santa

 


It’s The Haa, Haa–py–est Time of The Year

     The words and melody from the radio fill my car as I drive to the post office to mail the holiday cards. We have snow, it looks like a winter wonderland; and kids, amid shrieks of laughter and merriment, are sledding down our shared driveway on anything they can find that’s large enough to sit on. Sun is shining, snow balls are flying, and I’m certain school vacation is adding to this happiest of times.
     And then my counseling background kicks in and I remember that holidays aren’t always the happiest of times for people. So I decide to check in with a few older people and see how they’re doing. As a counselor, I’m trained to ask objective questions–not leading questions that will give me the answer I want (or think I want). That said, let me share my findings.
*
     The consensus seems to be, from my small sample–but there’s no disagreement–that this is the haa, haa-py-est time of the year for children who have none of the responsibilities of adulthood, for newly marrieds who are looking forward, and for young couples with children who still believe in Santa.
     It’s an especially happy time when older family members are geographically near enough to children and grandchildren so that they can gather together to celebrate and talk about shared past experiences. Meanwhile the excitement of the children in the family provides a background of energy and optimism.
     “The holidays are a time when our mind drifts back to past Christmases that were happy times. It’s a sentimental time,” recalls one 80-year-old widow. “It’s a wonderful time when families can get together, yet a lot of people are completely alone. As people get older, they have experienced losses. Especially for those who’ve lost their mates, other people’s happiness can be a reminder of the losses we’ve incurred. We’re just more vulnerable to that kind of thing when we get older.”
     “Unless there’s a lot of family around and a lot going on, it’s not the happiest time of the year. It’s depressing,” says a 70-year old man.
     There’s agreement that it takes effort for older people to find this a happy time. “It doesn’t just happen,” says one. “It’s what you you make of it when you’re older,” says another. “If you make the effort to be with people it’s good, but it can be exhausting. We may continue to decorate and continue to write the notes on the Christmas cards because we want our home to look festive an we like to get letters back after we write the notes. But we need to trim down and trim back so we aren’t too tire to enjoy.”
     So then I ask the question: How can younger people help? The answers:
 *            *             *
1. Keep in close contact with elders–aunts, uncles. Make sure they’re not forgotten.
2. A phone call even; it doesn’t have to be a visit. An old person related “I had a wonderful phone call from a far-away relative recently.” (Most old people prefer a phone call to an email.)
3. It’s nice to take older people out to something, but take them to something that is rather quiet, that isn’t too taxing an experience.
*                *           *
Why not pick up the phone and talk with at least one older person who lives alone or feels isolated? We can brighten his or her day We can make older people feel special and cared about…because they are. Add we can add interest to their lives. Major studies confirm that connections are one of the most important factors in successful aging. It may not be the Haa, Haa-py-est time of the year for most older people, but we can make it better.

6 Last-Minute Holiday Gifts: Exciting, Entertaining, Easily Obtainable–2013

Need a last-minute gift for an older person without the enduring the hectic last-minute crowds?  Here’s my short list.  It highlights exciting, pleasurable and practical gifts that can help parents and grandparents age well.

  • Lottery tickets, whether they are the scratch-off or wait-for-selection-of-the-winning-numbers-kind, add excitement to life.
  • Christmas LightsA drive with you to see the holiday decorations. Especially at night, when many older people are insecure about going out, the light displays are a great treat.
  • Open Table gift card simple, free sign up. You select restaurant (from ***** on down, in 33 cities), select card design, and amount of $ you wish to spend. More info: (888) 503-7558 or gifts@opentable.com Gift card emailed to you to print out that same day. Many older people prefer their largest meal at lunch for various reasons; whatever meal, they can invite friends if you provide enough $.
  • Netflix conveniently provides seniors, who don’t go out to the movies, many hours of entertainment.
  • Filling the car with gas for a senior on fixed income, or helping with other such essentials is a welcome gift.  While shopping and taking out my led pocket magnifying glass to help the saleswoman read the care label on a coat, an 81-year-old lady, buying a jacket for her granddaughter, joined the conversation. When I asked her what she’d like for Christmas, she quickly replied “my health,” then added “and someone filling up my gas tank….I just bought gas and it’s so expensive.”
  • An IOU to take non-driving seniors shopping/to the doctor etc. and back.

While Netflix comes with a gift card, and lottery tickets speak for themselves, making a card for the last two gifts only requires a recipe/index card or a piece of paper onto which a picture of a car (gas-tank side showing?) is pasted.

HAPPY GIFT GIVING

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

Do Fears for Aging Parents’ Well-Being Unnecessarily Curtail Their Independence?

Of course the responsible answer is “yes” and “no.” But looking at a few examples can give us a “heads up” so we aren’t premature in our actions.

We’re heading for the Grand Canyon today. An experience there, over a decade ago, flashes back. The last time my husband and I spent time there my parents were alive (but not with us). We and the people sitting next to us at lunch began talking. Conversation ultimately turned to aging parents–we all had them. Sometimes I think we brag about old parents like young parents brag about their children.

“Driving” entered the conversation. None of us lived near our parents. My dad was still driving; he was younger than the father of the woman sitting next to us whose husband nudged her, urging her to tell us about her dad.

Old Car

Old Car (Photo credit: dr.stabo)

This couple had been reading the statistics about older drivers and decided that even though her father lived in a relatively small town, he had already defied the averages for people his age driving safely by a good many years. So they had the driving discussion with him, explained their thinking, were mindful of his independence, and said he could keep the car,  but he really shouldn’t drive any longer. The town wasn’t large, he could get around by other means. He agreed; they could take the car keys. It was a relief to the couple.

What they didn’t know–and didn’t find out until much later– was that he called the guy he knew at the gas station, said he’d lost his car keys, someone made him a new key and he continued driving safely until he died. His daughter and her husband decided if he was that sharp, they wouldn’t interfere or tell him they knew, and he died happily–in his early 90s, I believe.

Aging parents driving safely and living safely are two understandable concerns.

Because adult children are quick to see assisted living as a solution to many of the problems associated with aging, it’s important for them to be aware of what J. Donna Sullivan, CSW, former Director of Older Adult Services for the Scarsdale & Edgemont Family described as “typical crises” that prompt adult children to “run to put them (their parents) in assisted living prematurely.

“It’s premature,” she said, “because their parents could continue to live fairly independently for another 5-6 years if they took advantage of services that are available in almost all communities.”  (And these services usually cost less than being in an assisted living situation.) Picture the scene: parents aren’t eating properly, they have deteriorated medically, the bills aren’t paid, the mail has piled up, the laundry isn’t done, clutter is everywhere.

“What I’ve probably seen most, is the deterioration of older people’s health because they’re physically not able to get to doctors or dentists or get their hearing aid batteries—things that probably could keep them in their home and keep them independent longer.  There are services to assist them with meals, with transportation, with housekeeping, but they’re not getting them.  The bills aren’t paid and the mail piles up because they can’t see well and need new glasses and ultimately it gets to crisis mode.  These older people need ‘care management,’ not assisted living.”

Local social service agencies can be very helpful: first, by doing an assessment of elderly parents’ needs; then by making appropriate referrals for special services (eg. Meals on Wheels, home aides) or to other appropriate professionals.

We try to help parents age well and that involves supporting their independence for as long as possible. It may not be easy. Indeed it may require a lot of thought and obtaining good information. But assuming they’re doing nothing that threatens their life or limb, we will never feel guilty–in fact we will always feel good knowing that we did the best we could.

Related:
http://www.aarp.org/families/driver_safety :links to 10 vision safety tips for older drivers; “We Need to Talk” (about driving); CarFit; Should you take a Driver Safety Class?


 

Wise Words: Pearls of Wisdom from our 99-year-old Sr. Advisor

99-year-old at tea room

Sr. Advisor, 99, at tea room

Advice and Ideas about Life and Aging:
9 Original Sayings

Original sayings must be in Sr. Advisor R’s DNA. One of her mother’s sayings, “Do the best you can, angels can do no more,” has appeared in previous posts. Wisdom…based on many year’s of living. R’s mother died in her early 90’s. R will be 100 in September.  (Sr. Advisor R tab above has more information.)

Yesterday she invited 3 women for lunch and tea (including myself) at the Rose Tea Room. She was driven over by the other two guests–both much younger.  She had made all the arrangements for the luncheon. Our conversation was stimulating and included lots of laughs.

Something to laugh about

This wrapping paper’s design is something to laugh about

When the conversations are long enough, we’re treated to some of R’s sayings. Wisdom–from one who has lived a long life and paid attention.

1.  In today’s world there are three things you can count on: flowers, music,  and animals (to bring joy).

2.  Life is good; it’s the people who mess it up.

3.  As we live our lives, we write our own history.

4.  Don’t abuse yourself. You get enough from the outside.

5.  Know when to say “no.”

6.  As you age it is helpful to simplify your life.

7.  Don’t expect anything and you won’t be disappointed.

8.  Don’t assume. 

9.  Take care of yourself or you won’t be able to take care of anything else.

Because R values independence to such a high degree, “take care of yourself” has been a major motivator in her old age. We have also heard and read from many sources how important this is for family caregivers. When we hear “take care of yourself…” from someone who has navigated life for 99 years most successfully by anyone’s standards, do we take heed? These words are clearly meant for us as well.

Related: 2014 research: Wisdom’s Importance in Successful Aging

Lifting The After-Christmas Let-Down– 6 Suggestions (updated 2012)

Understanding and Lifting Aging Parents’
After-Christmas Let-Down

What happens after an event takes place that we’ve been anticipating–hearing about well in advance? We are left with the emotional residue–wonderful or not so wonderful, depending. No matter the event, it happens (present tense). Then it’s over. Ended. Done.

The day (and week) after Christmas.  The media’s holiday focus on family togetherness, generating warm fuzzy feelings and a celebratory spirit aimed at making people feel good, ends. The media then calls attention to the past, generating pleasant or unpleasant memories; we are encouraged to improve ourselves by making New Year’s resolutions. Isn’t it easy to see how the end of the holidays can intensify feelings of emptiness and of loneliness in seniors living alone? And the fact that it’s winter, and it’s colder, and it gets dark earlier doesn’t help.

Can adult children elevate that let down feeling? “Yes,” according to our senior advisors, who offer 4 suggestions (I’ve added a 5th and 6th):

  • “Stay in close contact with elders–aunts, uncles. Make sure they’re not forgotten or feeling abandoned.”
  • Make a phone call; it doesn’t need to be a visit. I had a wonderful phone call from a far-away living relative recently. You know, older people prefer phone calls instead of emails.”
  • “Take older people out to something, but take them to something that is rather quiet, that isn’t too taxing an experience.” 
  •  “Make a plan for the future so there’s something to look forward to.” Sr. Advisor, R, calls that “a carrot,” and says it keeps her going.
  • When old people receive new technology (eg. iPad/notebook) that fosters keeping in touch, contact them often at the beginning through that technology. Older people need the practice in order to feel comfortable with new technology. Also you will quickly discover if they need more help. 

I remember the advice given me by a priest I interviewed for my divorce book years ago. He emphasized the importance of touching base on a regular basis with people we care about– whether or not they are facing challenges or need us in their lives.

To this end, he wrote on his calendar at regular intervals “phone so-and-so,” putting in names and telephone numbers. He said it was the only way he could be certain of regularly continuing the connections.

It’s rarely lack of caring that prevents us from doing something additional on a regular basis. More likely we just get busy and forget. So…I guess we need to take out our new calendars or whatever technology we use; put in a few names and numbers of our older, living-alone friends and family; then make at least one phone call before New Year’s Eve……at which time I’ll return with my last post for 2012.

Related articles

Note: “Newsworthy” (right sidebar). Links to timely information and research from top universities and respected professionals–plus some practical articles –to help parents age well.

It’s the Haa, Haa–py–est Time of the Year

December 2009–first posted. I like to repost at this time each year….as a reminder.

The words and melody from the radio fill my car as I drive to the post office to mail the holiday cards. We have snow, it looks like a winter wonderland; and kids, amid shrieks of laughter and merriment, are sledding down our shared driveway on anything they can find that’s large enough to sit on. Sun is shining, snow balls are flying, and I’m certain school vacation is adding to this happiest of times.
And then my counseling background kicks in and I remember that holidays aren’t always the happiest of times for people. So I decide to check in with a few older people and see how they’re doing. You must remember that I’m a counselor, trained to ask objective questions–not leading questions that will give me the answer I want (or think I want). So let me share my findings.
 
The consensus seems to be, from my small sample but there’s no disagreement, that this is the haa, haa-py-est time of the year for children who have none of the responsibilities of adulthood, for newly marrieds who are looking forward, and for young couples with children who still believe in Santa. It’s an especially happy time when older family members are geographically near enough to children and grandchildren so that they can gather together to celebrate and talk about shared past experiences. Meanwhile the excitement of the children in the family provides a background of energy and optimism.
“The holidays are a time when our mind drifts back to past Christmases that were happy times. It’s a sentimental time,” recalls one older widow. “It’s a wonderful time when families can get together, yet a lot of people are completely alone. As people get older, they have experienced losses. Especially for those who’ve lost their mates, other people’s happiness can be a reminder of the losses we’ve incurred. We’re just more vulnerable to that kind of thing when we get older.” “Unless there’s a lot of family around and a lot going on, it’s not the happiest time of the year. It’s depressing,” shares a 70-year-old man.
There’s agreement that it takes effort for older people to find this a happy time. “It doesn’t just happen,” says one. “It’s what you make of it when you’re older,” says another. “If you make the effort to be with people it’s good, but it can be exhausting. We may continue to decorate and continue to write notes on the Christmas cards because we want our home to look festive and we like to get letters back after we write the notes. But we need to trim down and trim back so we aren’t too tired to enjoy.”So then I ask the question: How can younger people help? Can they help?

The answers:
1. Keep in close contact with elders–aunts, uncles. Make sure they’re not forgotten.
2. A phone call even; it doesn’t have to be a visit. I had a wonderful phone call from a far-away relative recently. You know older people don’t relate to an email as they do to a phone call.
3. It’s nice to take older people out to something, but take them to something that is rather quiet, that isn’t too taxing an experience.
* * * * *
OK, everyone. Why not pick up the phone and talk with at least one older person who lives alone or feels isolated. Brighten his or her day. Make these older people feel special, cared about…because they are. Raise their self-esteem. Add interest to their lives. Major studies confirm that connections are one of the most important factors in successful aging. It may not be the Haa, Haa-py-est time of the year for most older people, but we can make it better.