Aging Parents’ After-Christmas Let-Down (you will be taken to updated version)

                            The After-Christmas Let-Down
Holiday Window

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. an iPad) that fosters keeping in touch, contact them through that technology often at the beginning. Older people need the practice (often again and again) 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.

Note: I’m posting a day early so there’s more time to make the phone call before New Year’s Eve.  Happy 2013 everyone–to you and all the older members in your family.

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Help Aging Parents: When Shorter Days=Depression or Doldrums

Six Suggestions to Help Aging Parents
Through the Shorter Days of Autumn and Short, Dark Days of Winter

Why? Just as sunshine usually gives us a better outlook, the arrival of autumn (on Wednesday) with less sun, cooler weather, falling leaves, and ultimately barren trees and dark days has the opposite effect on many.  To help parents age well with a positive attitude six suggestions follow.

–Structure it so aging parents–especially those who are homebound– have daily connections with family members and friends (old friends new friends, your children, your childhood friends if they still see your parents, clergy). It can help avoid a “funk” or get them out of a “funk.”

-Arrange for letters, notes, faxes, e-mails, (hard copies can be shared with friends and reread), phone calls, Skype to arrive daily. Fax and e-mail take little time, require no conversation, yet bring stimulation to aging parents along with the knowledge someone is thinking about them–great for busy children.

–Remember that “carrots,” plans to do something at a future time, give aging parents something to think about and look forward to.

–Asking advice in a phone call, e-mail etc. doesn’t happen as much with older people. To be asked reinforces self-esteem–the feeling of being able to contribute, of being needed.

–Sharing appropriate personal thoughts and feelings–with or without asking for input–is flattering (promotes self-esteem) and inclusive.

–Discussing news and exchanging ideas is stimulating. And who doesn’t like gossip!

The highly regarded 1987 MacArthur Foundation Study of Aging in America (along with other studies) identified social connectedness as one of the three most important factors in successful aging.  The more people in an aging person’s life, the better.

So in the dark, dreary months ahead, connections with others take on even more importance.  They provide stimulation.  They help older parents combat feelings of isolation, loneliness and depression.  And that makes our life easier too.

In addition, an elderly person’s feeling that he or she matters–that someone cares–is priceless.  And isn’t that a big part of what helping parents age well is all about.