When Helping Aging Parents Isn’t Helpful

4 Common Mistakes We Make When Trying to Help Parents Age Well

Some “courtesies” today may be considered good manners, but in fact don’t help older people age well.  They chip away at independence and work against physical fitness–so necessary for successful aging.

I’ve become conscious of this since my 97-year-old mother-in-law (and Senior Advisor to my blog, R) has made a full recovery from her broken hip and is again living alone (with an alert pendant) in her home of 60+ years.

She continues physical therapy twice a week, where she’s being trained to walk confidently on her own–without cane. Surprisingly I realize my instincts weren’t helping this goal.

1. After spending 4 months in a rehab center doing physical therapy to strengthen muscles and regain her ability to walk, her handicapped parking permit is readily available.  But why use it to park up close (except in emergency situations) when walking is excellent exercise for her?

2. Nor do I open the car door for her any more.  She was taught how to open a car door and get in properly–cane and all. It took hard work on her part to accomplish this. Do I reinforce independence or contribute to her muscle strength by opening the car door? or closing it?

“It’s nice to let people do for you,” says R, “but pretty soon you get used to it and you begin to lose independence.  And that happens with too many people.  I’ve been watching it.  Pretty soon they can’t do for themselves what they really are capable of doing–and they lose a lot of their life.”

When/if this happens it lose-lose for everyone, except perhaps for assisted living facilities and 24/7 caregivers.  Don’t we want to avoid this as long as possible–if not forever?

3. Are we helpful, when we help old people out of a chair? If they can get up by themselves they exercise leg and arm muscles. Older people get up–unaided–more easily from a chair with a sturdy seat and sturdy arms (like the arm chairs at a dining room table). Every older person’s home should have one–as should their children’s.

Fact: countless older people can’t get off of the toilet due to weak leg and arm muscles. (Worry not–they’ve found raised seats in the catalogs and surgical supply places, but why help parents get into that situation?)

4. When parents use a walker but are seated, for example at a restaurant, it’s common to see well-meaning children pull them up from their chair. This deprives the walker-user from exercising arm and leg muscles, but equally–if not more–important, elderly people have thin, fragile skin–so easily bruised and not so easily healed. Bottom line: stand firm, reach out and let the walker-using person grab our hands and pull him/herself up.

What else is not helpful? Basically–even with the best of intentions– doing anything for aging parents that they can do for themselves.

Check out “Newsworthy” (top right ). Links to timely information and research from top universities,
plus some fun stuff–to help parents age well.

Aging Parents: Lack of Exercise, Weakened Muscles–Do We Enable?

Knowing that “ify” balance and loss of confidence contribute to aging parents’ concern about falling, and just having written about falling and “alert” pendants, reminded me of one of those “ah haa!” moments.  I realized that Mother, recovering from a stroke, was not conscientious about doing her physical therapy exercises at home. For one thing, she needed to walk more, her muscles needed strengthening. As we know, muscles weaken for lack of use.

Being a far-away living child, I wanted to make the most of my time with her. My suggestions only made her feel less adequate when I flew out to visit. I wanted to empower.  What better than a short outing to Nordstroms? We’d have fun. She’d have to walk.

Underway and armed with handicapped tag (and walker just in case), I felt tension thinking about the availability of a handicapped parking space.  But there it was–just waiting for us.

As I was preparing to get out, then help Mother out–flash of brilliance: “Why am parking so close? The primary purpose of this outing is for Mother to walk more…I’m trying to help an aging parent, not trying to park as close as I can which limits her walking.”

When parents can–and need to–exercise their leg muscles, doesn’t it make sense to avoid the handicapped space? Of course we needn’t park blocks away–but we know our parents, we can guage their capability (if uncertain check with doctor) and gradually increase it.

Walking–as we know–is a best exercise and costs nothing (unless we do a lot of shopping).

If parents need the stability of your arm, check out the dignified, preferred way of doing this in my August 21st post. And of course shopping carts at the big box stores, grocery stores etc. provide the stability to make walking easy for older parents.

Bottom line: skip the handicapped spaces, unless there’s a good reason to use them. This is one more way we can help our parents age well.

Check out “Newsworthy” (right sidebar). Links to timely tips, information and research from top universities and respected professionals–to help parents age well.