Good Therapy’s “2014 10 Top Websites for Aging” honor–plus A Discussion of Differing Realities/Avoiding Arguments

Help! Aging Parents was honored in late December–selected as one of Good Therapy’s 2014 “Top 10 Websites for Aging,” they write:

As a self-proclaimed “serious, well-educated cheerleader for helping parents age well,” this blog shares information and insight about issues that affect geriatric parents and their adult children. Susan, the sole author, often tackles everyday issues that seem banal but can become problematic in old age, like swallowing medication or planning dinner events. She writes with humor and candor, and cites input from professionals as well as her “senior” advisers.

As we end the first month of 2015, much of the US is cold and elders understandably remain indoors. If we don’t live with them and are conscientious, we visit as often as possible. An issue that’s definitely “banal” (“ordinary or commonplace”) is the high temperatures at which elders set their thermostats to stay warm. It’s problematic when it’s suffocatingly warm in their home for us, but not for them.

There’s a lesson here–about who’s right and who’s wrong. It can avoid, happily more often than we like to think, arguments with older family members. First, the facts:

The NY Times addressed the issue of elders being cold in its no-longer-published Booming Blog, Factors cited include “a decrease in circulation as the walls of the blood vessels lose their elasticity and the thinning of the fat layer under the skin that helps conserve body heat. And as people age, their metabolic responses to the cold may be slower. Vasoreceptors, for example, may not be as quick to direct blood vessels to constrict to keep the body temperature up.”

Johns Hopkins’ After 50 Newsletter responds similarly to the question: “I’m older and colder. Why?then discusses Hypothermia. We learn “It doesn’t have to be subzero outside for hypothermia to set in. Research suggests that very frail, elderly people can develop hypothermia at room temperatures as high as 71 to 75 ˚ F! And 50 percent of those who develop hypothermia do not survive, usually as a result of going into cardiac arrest.” This article also has advice about staying warm, especially if elders must go out in cold weather.

Sr, Advisor S.RN adds that especially when she made home visits to those who had COPD, she “had to brace herself,” because their homes could be “so incredibly hot–like opening an oven door.” But they needed that additional heat.

OK. We know the facts; yet there’s something additional that’s important to understand. Reality is not carved in stone. In a counseling class at Teachers College years ago, the professor posed the hot/cold question. Its purpose, to legitimize people’s differing realities. He said something like “You and I are in the same room. It’s comfortable for me. It’s too cold for you. Who’s right?”  

If we keep an open mind, we can understand that both are right and save ourselves arguments. When elders are clearly “off-base,” we have choices. We can “pick our battles.”  When their “right” is clearly wrong and must be corrected, we most often must correct the wrong.

Here’s to avoiding some arguments and disagreements with our aging parents and the elders we care about.
Related:  Tough Talks, Difficult Discussions: The Best Way to Begin
                Aging Parents and Arguments: Who Wins?
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Aging Parents: Do We Become Parents to Our Parents? Part 1of 2

Do We Become Parents to Our Parents…and/or do we remain their children forever?

Contributing factors are varied.  Let’s look at the “children forever” part first. (Part 2 will address “When Parents Can No Longer Do For Themselves.)

Back to Childhood: To help parents age well we need to keep in mind: “People change–not much.”  I’ve often repeated this quote from the former head of human resources at a highly regarded Fortune 500 company. As grown ups, we can look at our parents with fresh eyes if we try (it’s perhaps easier when we live far away).

If parents are currently of sound mind and were accustomed to being in charge, confident, domineering–even if we don’t like the way they do things, we can’t expect them to change just because they’re old. If they’ve always accepted help, wanted people to do for them, and/or lacked confidence when younger, aging doesn’t change that. You get the idea.

Adulthood: What changes is our feelings about our relationship with parents–not necessarily connected to age, but rather their condition (ie. active and robust, beginning to seem feeble, fragile, and/or confused or becoming more dependent on us)–and/or our situation (ie. grown up, independent, conducting our own lives or unsettled).

 Parents remain our parents and we remain their children. Nothing can change that.

Can we fault aging parents for treating us like children? Or can we understand and then act accordingly?  It’s hard for parents to let go. Easy to continue old patterns of behavior. Think about coming home, if you went away to college. Didn’t parents still try to be parents–dismissing the fact that you had been completely on your own 24/7.  (Yes I know, that was before cell phones became an umbilical cord for some.)

This doesn’t excuse parents continually telling us what to do, or laying a guilt trip on us if we aren’t compliant; rather it bolsters the necessity to express our feelings, but also “pick our battles” if we want to avoid unimportant confrontations.

How can we maintain our adult status, when they think of us as their children?

It’s helpful to use “I statements” and “feeling statements” so as not to put parents on the defensive by sounding critical.  Examples: “I feel: really bad/sad when you: tell me I’m ……../–fault me/–try to control me” instead of something like “Why do you always have to …….. me?”  “Why can’t you try to understand me?”

Here’s the flip-side–

Interestingly, at certain stages in our lives some of us think we know pretty much about everything. We’re raising–or have raised–children successfully. We know we’re competent. We have jobs and do well and receive praise. This can translate into our thinking we know what’s best for our parents.

That’s dangerous when parents are still mentally capable. Too many suggestions can lead to resentment. Telling them what they should and shouldn’t do–assuming there’s no threat to life and limb–can be inflammatory if our opinion wasn’t asked.

Bossy, in-charge parents like my friend’s mother (who died at 104) want to remain in charge even when they can’t be in charge. (Her son walked a tightrope seeing that her needs were met without her thinking he was “meddling.”) Learning to let go, when it came to disputes that had no bearing on his mother’s welfare, was difficult for him…until he realized “why make life miserable for all of us as long as nothing is threatening her well-being?”

If the monkey wants a banana, give him a banana,” was a saying back in the day. Remembering it can help parents age well and help their children avoid unproductive confrontations.

Continued in Part 2: When Parents Can No Longer Do For Themselves