Aging Parents: Loss and Grief We Might Never Realize

We know parents lose friends, and spouses, and sometimes a child. Yet the lasting grief and the totality and nature of losses is an eye-opener. We hear from an active, obviously intelligent older person:

Yesterday I traveled to the city to meet a group of art buffs who get together once a year for a tour of the galleries of new art. We hoot at the craziness of some exhibits and press each other to understand what’s going on in each installation and interactive piece. This year, however, I could not stand and walk easily. Fatigue overshadowed my pleasure in the art, and I knew that next year I would forgo an event that for twenty years has been one of the highlights of the fall season for me.

On my calendar is the evening wedding of a friend’s granddaughter. In the sixty years of our friendship, S and I have participated in each other’s celebrations, and now I will see a grown-up Rachel in a bridal gown–Rachel, the family nonconformist, in the traditional ceremony. I’ll embrace S’s friends and family members whom I’ve seen at previous celebrations, noting how they’ve aged along with me. Can I travel for two hours to a wedding that will begin about my usual bedtime? Easy, I tell myself, just rearrange your day to include a nap. But at 86 I don’t adjust to changes in schedule and try as I will, the nap won’t happen. Would it be foolish to go? Yes. Will I go? Probably…but certainly not to a similar event next year.

Another pleasure that has come to an end: my jaunts with R, who delighted in driving, as many men do, and would drive us twenty miles for lunch at a restaurant with a view of the lake or ocean. R and I are the only ones left of the six friends–three couples–who met abroad thirty years ago, but alas even the two of us are breaking up. His failing eyesight has forced him to give up driving and yield to his children’s desire for him to move to another part of the country, closer to family.

There have been worse losses than a party or a trip. In the past decade alone, many friends have died. R’s wife, H, with cruel suddenness. An older friend, the worldly A, who guided my plans and purchases when my husband and I began to travel. She taught me how to be a friend. J, a younger colleague whose admiration spurred me to achievement, gone before her time. B, my exact contemporary, is gone, and E, a friend from college died three months ago.

Also lost in the past decade…a deeply admired younger brother, a bon vivant whose word of praise–for a purchase made or a dish well cooked–made all the trouble worthwhile.

And the deepest loss, the steady love that buoyed me for most of my adult life. How to tell children and friends that I haven’t stopped grieving for my husband, who died eight years ago? I’d be disgraced in their eyes, a pariah, a dinosaur who can’t adapt to the present world. And so I hug this guilty secret about a loss that should have healed seven years ago and still stabs daily.

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

Aging Parents: The Practical, Important Foundations for Aging Well– Fundamental 3

4 Fundamentals–Fundamental #3

#3. Hearing: Regular hearing check-ups. Purchasing the right hearing aids when needed. Sr. Advisor, M, is–but almost wasn’t–a staunch supporter of hearing aids. Hearing well is a given–until we don’t, and risk missing out on stimulation and information. Hearing loss can become a safety factor as well if, for instance, one doesn’t hear a car coming—and what about heeding certain instructions. (Think telephone instructions, announcements at airports.)

After taking many weeks to adjust to her needed hearing aids, M was so enthusiastic about alleviating hearing loss that we devoted a post to her experience and advice- https://helpparentsagewell.com/2010/05/22/why-hearing-aids-get-put-in-a-drawer-never-to-come-out-again/ Not only do people with hearing loss miss so much, they also cause exasperation in those having to repeat over and over so it’s a negative for everyone. Clearly doesn’t help parents age well.

M has mulled over the question of why people easily accept wearing glasses to improve vision but resist hearing aids.  Perhaps because so many younger people wear glasses with fashionable frames whereas mostly older people have hearing aids (which they try to hide?). Thus, people generalize–hearing aids signify “old.” Is it because it takes perseverance to get used to them? Or is it because they’re expensive and many don’t purchase the best for their situation and spend money, but end up wasting it on an unsatisfactory product that’s not worth using for various reasons? Or they don’t know there’s a return policy.

Check: there should be a return policy on hearing aids. If the first don’t seem right after giving them a good try, try others. (Note: Dad bought expensive new hearing aids; died three weeks later; we were told to return the hearing aids for a full 30-day-refund, which we got…no problem.)

Also check this March 2012 video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=endscreen&NR=1&v=wEoJsdhnW2A. It’s informative and features the Medical Director of the Ear Institute at the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary. He makes a good case for hearing loss being more noticeable than today’s small hearing aids. (US News‘s 2011 Best Hospitals edition ranks NY Eye and Ear #26 in Ear, Nose and Throat [and #8 in ophthalmology] in the US.)

NYEE has also posted an on-line “simple self-assessment quiz” under Get Your Hearing Tested at http://ilikemyhearing.org/?p=288

Become a Moving Target, See Well, Hear Well. Important for Aging Well.

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Aging Parents and Hearing Loss–2

An aging parent’s hearing loss can’t help but impact–to some degree–his or her quality of living and potential to age well. And, as many will attest, it can exasperate others’ efforts to communicate. While we most likely make polite allowances for casual acquaintances, it can be especially frustrating when it hampers communication with our parents.

CAUSING IMPATIENCE IN ADULT CHILDREN

We’re discussing important matters. We’re pressed for time and are asked to repeat. Curt responses like that of the “wonderful daughter” in Saturday’s post aren’t unusual. Aging parents’ hearing loss may cause our responses to inadvertently chip away at their self-esteem. And doesn’t this work at cross purposes to our efforts to help parents age well?

WHEN TRYING TO EMPOWER STILL-COMPETENT AGING PARENTS TO CONSIDER A HEARING AID:

  • Pull them into the conversation as equal participants
  • Beware of–and resist– role reversal
  • Realize that proving we’re right may be less important than reaching the goal of having parents “buy in” and move forward
  • Remember that using “I” statements prevents feelings from coming across as a lecture or as fact: (“I may not be correct but…/ it may just be my concern but:…you don’t seem to be hearing as well as you used to/ you don’t seem to be using your hearing aids

SAMPLE CONVERSATION

“You know, Mom/Dad, lately I’ve noticed–and maybe you have too…” (this is respectful; pulls them in as an equal participant in the conversation) “that you’ve been asking me to repeat things a lot lately.”
Parental response: “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“You don’t know what I’m talking about…” (we repeat back and we confirm respect with an accurate account) “well yesterday you asked me to repeat several times what I said about Sally’s new home.”
Parent: “well there was that truck going by and making a lot of noise.”
“True, but I repeated about Sally’s new home twice after that. You know it could be a hearing problem. Do you think it makes sense to check it out with Dr. Smith?” (respectful, validates parental participation. And chances are, unless parents are in denial, they realize there is a hearing problem and most should act to get help).

Of course when something threatens life and limb, we know we must deal with it immediately. Hearing loss, while not as dramatic as dangerous driving, can be a threat. An inability to hear properly, for example, can result in a failure to heed warnings and could preclude anticipation of a dangerous situation. ( A previous post mentions the affects of inner ear problems on balance.)  Doesn’t this make a good case for older people to schedule a hearing evaluation?

AN EXPERIENCED AUDIOLOGIST

My senior advisors advise: “find an experienced audiologist who can instill confidence in an older person”. As opposed to going to an ophthalmologist or optometrist who writes a prescription for eyeglasses (which usually give noticeable vision improvement very quickly), most often hearing aids don’t solve hearing loss problems as easily or quickly.

Is this the reason there’s usually a 30-day return policy on hearing aids?  It seems many seniors I spoke with missed or were unaware of the return policy and just gave up on their hearing aid. Children committed to helping older parents age well may be surprised to find that at one time in the past their parents tried and gave up on still-in-the-drawer–hearing aids.

Saturday, one of my senior blog advisors, who has a brand new hearing aid, will be introduced.. She shares her experience to help older parents with hearing loss–age well.
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For excellent professional hearing loss information: check out National Institutes of Health and Mayo Clinic (click Blogs and Sites I Like above). Also questions/answers about situations with parents’ hearing loss in the Caregiver Questions in http://www.agingcare.com/Health-Conditions/1197/Hearing-Loss/Message-Boards/. Carol Bursak, the site’s “Community Moderator,” has been writing for a long time–offers solid information and good advice. Also click Blogs and Sites I like for Carol’s blog (mindingourelders.com).

Aging Parents: Hearing–or Hearing Loss?

“What did you say?”
“I just told you…….”

Does this snip-it of conversation with an aging parent sound familiar? And if it does, is there anything wrong with it?

We know that hearing loss may be a normal part of aging; but not all older people suffer (and I do mean suffer) from it. Mother could hear a pin drop right up until she died less than two weeks short of her 89th birthday. My dad, on the other hand, wore his hearing aid when he felt like it. Yet as both were–I guess you could say literally on their deathbeds (that sounds rather awful, doesn’t it)–I was told “hearing is the last to go.” Thus, we were all careful about what was said in their presence.

Currently my 18+ year-old cat, who sees probably better than I, has almost total hearing loss. It seemed to come about quite suddenly. I wonder how it mirrors the human experience. She, a stray, no longer hears nor comes running when called; she loved being outdoors but not any longer unless someone is out there with her; and she’s often scared when we apparently sneak up on her. So we have great patience with her; perhaps because she never asks “What did you say?” and we never need to repeat.

As we try to help parents age well, we try not to diminish or demean by saying something–or saying something in a way–that makes them feel bad. Obviously! And yet–

An 80-year old mother pointed out that her perfectly wonderful daughter had a habit of responding to the ubiquitous “What did you say?” with a bit of impatience in her voice (which made her mother feel bad) as she repeated whatever it was she initially said. So, for starters, when repetition is requested it may make sense to think carefully about how we respond. Who knows–that old saying “it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it” might possibly be applicable.

Tuesday’s post will make use of my counselor training with suggestions for responding to an aging parent who isn’t hearing well or isn’t using an already-purchased hearing aid; followed by tips for helping parents age well by doing what’s necessary to confront and combat hearing loss.