Slowed-down Aging Parents–What I never realized

“I’m late, I’m late……..”*

(Joints stiffen. Less agility. More wisdom. More Caution.
Does slowing down begin earlier than we realize?)

While I don’t remember the time (it was decades ago), I do remember the place: inside a New York taxi. I found a credit card on the floor and tried to decide whether to leave it with the driver or take it home and try to locate the owner.

The next time I took a taxi, after paying and before getting out, I took a few seconds to look at the back seat and floor to be certain I hadn’t left anything. Taking precautions.

How does this relate to aging parents slowing down?

I’d never before thought of accidentally leaving something in a taxi. But from the moment I realized the possibility, double-checking before exiting became normal for me. It  took a bit longer getting out of a taxi from then on.

I’m guessing we’ve all experienced moments similar to this– that caused us to adjust our actions so we continued to do what we previously did–only not as quickly.  As we get older our experiences multiply, generating wisdom and opening our eyes to potential problems we’d never thought about (eg. the necessity to double-check).  Then add age-related problems and dwindling energy.  Understandably people slow down. For fast-forward adult children (who may not realize this is happening to them too), pokey parents can frustrate and annoy.

Last month I had lunch with a friend (and former colleague) on her 92nd birthday. For at least two decades we’d celebrated with a birthday lunch that included one of her college friends (now 90). Both women were educators. That’s how I knew them.

Very bright and able (one was recruited for the Manhattan project), they attended the same college, one of the “Seven Sisters.” People would say they have aged well, yet they clearly have aging issues. During lunch, while we discussed politics (often an ongoing discussion in NY), and the accomplishments of their children and grandchildren, and caught up on what others are doing, the theme of “time” was always in the mix–whether explicit or implicit.

The women (with varying degrees of macular degeneration) and now widowed, discussed how long it took them to do things now, as compared to their younger, working years. They were well-aware they have slowed down. The one with better vision continues to drive to a responsible supervisory position but only two half-days a week now; the one with greatly impaired vision taught college math into her early 80’s. Currently she has a daytime companion to drive her and help keep her home in order.

They talked about how much time it takes just to get ready to go out in the morning. Interestingly things we take for granted, like the physical act of dressing, slows older people down.

Think about stiff joints and arthritis…and vision. Then think about buttons, zippers, or–for women–the clasp on a necklace or fastening a bra (which some do from the front before turning it around to the back), or the physical act of slipping something over one’s head.  How much additional time does it take to differentiate dark blue from black? (Try sorting those socks.) Have you ever seen an older man wearing one black sock and one dark blue sock?

There’s age-related slowing down (vision, hearing, muscle loss, stiff joints) plus, Sr. Advisor D noted, psychological slowing down that comes from caution and concerns. She stressed a prevailing fear of falling (and breaking a bone, a hip) among the old, old-old, and oldest old.

There’s also “a persistent worry about forgetting,” she said, “so there’s added urgency– the feeling they must take care of a thing right away before it’s forgotten.” This causes older people to double-check themselves to make certain they did–or will do– it right. And they don’t multi-task well because they realize multi-tasking diverts concentration and can easily lead to forgetting.  Concentrating on one thing at a time is a good strategy, but takes more time.

We may become frustrated and impatient when aging parents seem so pokey. Assuming they have a perfectly good mind, we can easily become intolerant when they’re keeping us waiting while they finish getting ready for something important like a doctor’s appointment.

Should we leave some wiggle room (tell a little lie) when giving aging parents a time they need to be ready? It can’t hurt. We only need to remember to be diplomatic when we ask them to write it down on their calendar or put it in their smart phone. Otherwise, if they’re late, we are partially at fault, aren’t we.


* Smidge of original dialog from Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland




Seniors’ Insecurities–What We Should Know to Help Parents Age Well–continued

Are we aware of our parents’ insecurities or do they cleverly hide them? Why do they do this?
Because of: pride, our youth-oriented culture, denial, valuing independence
What are the insecurities?
Concern about meeting responsibilities, looking old,
acting old, forgetting, having an accident, losing mobility, losing sight, losing control and probably most of all, fear that their children will make them move.
Our psychiatrist-senior advisor, Dr. Bud, explains: With aging comes loss.  When normal aging changes impact what we’ve taken for granted throughout our life, (eg. vision, hearing, strength, ability to heal rapidly, move quickly, enjoy mobility, count on our memory)–a sense of loss occurs–sometimes a profound sense of loss can occur. Loss can undermine confidence and create insecurities. There’s a new reality. “We can’t do what we used to do.”
To begin, there can be problems with Acceptance: Julia (who won’t tell her age until she’s 100–OK that’s pride)–is a real, very wise person in my unpublished book. Involved in a discussion with other octogenarians about when older people should stop driving, she says pointedly: “A lot of people can’t be honest with themselves and try to be something they can’t be. It’s acceptance,” she continues, “an accepting of a lessening of yourself and it’s not pleasant. But you have to settle for some of this.”
And there’s Denial: We’ve all seen people who deny aging by their actions and their affect (the way they look). The cliche is the old man flirting with the young women– and the young “trophy wife.” R once told us that one of her trying-to-act-young contemporaries  (both in their 90’s at the time) was still “teetering around” on high heels. We knew this woman’s son and when we asked how his mother was, he responded that she was still wearing those high heels and he feared she would fall one day. (She never did.)
3.  Pride is a motivator that keeps older people looking good and meeting responsibilities.  In our youth-oriented society, it’s not cool to be seen as old. Independent elders, like Sr. Advisor R, take care to maintain their image. They make the effort and take all the time necessary to look as good as possible. They’ve learned to compensate for vision loss, hearing loss, hair loss, energy loss, etc. and many do physical and mental exercises. While they are more cautious, especially when vision impairs seeing well at night, they are more graceful about it. R will now ask for your arm when stepping of the curb to cross a street–a direct, dignified request.
R isn’t driven by our youth-oriented culture. Perhaps it’s because she learned grown up responsibilities when very young. She says her father taught her to be responsible very early on due to family illness. That included learning to take a streetcar by herself to get places. And R has accepted “the lessening,” figuring out how to compensate so she can do most of the things she has done since she was widowed in her early 50’s.
She still lives alone and independently, knows what’s going on, helps friends, supports her favorite charities, and has love and admiration from–I don’t think it’s exaggerating to say–every young person (boomer and younger) who spends 5 minutes with her.
I’ve quoted R many times, saying (once she entered her 90’s) that “things get more difficult each day.” We believe her, but don’t see the evidence except where energy is concerned. So what do we, adult children, do? We try to empower. We respect her wishes. We give legitimate compliments and praise when appropriate. If she doesn’t ask, we keep most suggestions to ourselves. We try to supplement groceries or make things easier in any way we can during the months we’re with her.
A geriatric social worker said once “It takes a village to keep the grandparent in the village.” To that end, R’s neighbors wheel her garbage and recyclables to the street and back each week, bring the daily newspaper and mail to her back door, leave flowers, baked goods, little notes by her back door, and two women (one 51, the other a boomer) phone each week when they go grocery shopping–inviting her to go with them or asking what they can get for her.
How fortunate older people are when they have thoughtful, caring neighbors who value older people and help make aging in place possible; and how grateful far-away-living children are for these wonderful neighbors who fill in the gaps (thus unseen insecurities don’t overwhelm), and–in general–help parents age well.

Aging Parents–Seniors’ Insecurities We Should Know About

My parents were the young-old type. Their insecurities weren’t apparent until they were well into their 80’s. Mother remarked she didn’t realize she was old until she was 85. My m-i-l, Sr. Advisor R, said she didn’t feel old until she fell and broke her hip (femur) at age 97. However, when she began using a cane to go out after her successful surgery, she commented that she didn’t like using the cane when she went out because people saw it and thought of her as “old.”

Regardless of feelings and specific age, even boomers (and of course old people) develop insecurities they neither had nor thought about while younger. At a certain age many make efforts to cover up insecurities so as not to seem “old.”

Two years ago I wrote a post about Sr. Advisor R’s telling me she didn’t want to be rushed. It was a must for her to be on time. Indeed she often called, before I came to pick her up, to check that I’d be there on time.  I understood and respected this, but couldn’t help thinking about my working years when I’d make a plan with colleagues far into the future–having complete faith that we’d be at the appointed place at the appointed time–never giving a thought to the fact that I should double-check at some point.  No insecurity and never a problem.

Exactly the opposite, yet based on aging-type insecurities, is the once-organized older parent who no longer plans enough time and often isn’t ready. Why? In some cases, because of extra time spent due to insecurities about what to wear, looking good enough, possibly forgetting something and/or not moving (physically) as quickly as before. (Of course constant forgetting is an issue that should be discussed with a parent’s doctor.)

We may be unaware of our parents’ insecurities if they cleverly cover them up. Why do they do this?

The internet access is out in our apartment and the surrounding area, so I’ve taken advantage of the Apple Store (which is somewhat near)–but my time is up here and I must go.  Back tomorrow from here or from home……