Help Aging Parents: Their Private Concerns as 2011 Ends and 2012 Begins

Seattle New Years Eve Fireworks 2011

“With the new year approaching, what are your thoughts about the past year and the upcoming new year?”

This question was asked of a sampling of aging women, whose introspective, candid responses offer insights into sadness, concerns, resignation and hopes. Some live independently in their homes; others in assisted living.  While the contrast is understandable, it surprised me initially.

  • “It was a wonderful year because I kept well and mobile, which is important not only to exist, but to live. I hope I get through to another new year–the future can close in on you. Not everyone can live to be 100.” (86)
  • “All I know is you have to hope and pray things will get better. The country is so torn apart. I try to live my life in such a way that I still am in charge and I’m still involved. But there’s a certain amount of fear that I will lose this independence.” (90’s)
  • “Christmas (December) isn’t the greatest time to be an older person. Cards come in from friends–some aren’t well, then a card comes from only Jean–not Jean and Richard and I realize Richard had been ill and has obviously died….

There’s a melancholy about the pastyou have more memories than you have plans. You know certain things aren’t practical, possible. Big chunks of things that make life happy aren’t there any more…I push it out of my mind, telling myself how lucky I am…I must draw on the resources I have.

So I look forward to the new year when things return to normal and I volunteer at the church and do another volunteer job. A big part of life is plans and future. Without plans, a date on a calendar doesn’t mean anything.” (early 80’s)

  • “The world is—ugh! I don’t like listening to the news. And lately I’ve heard of so many people I know falling. You don’t know what’s going to happen next.” (89)
  • “It’s not comfortable living in this world with all of its problems. Some nights I go to bed and don’t want to wake up. Looking forward: I’m concerned about my children–will they remain close, how will they be after I go.” (83)
  • “My husband is very ill.” Looking forward: “I’m hoping he passes away before I do because he couldn’t handle things alone.” (78)
  • “I feel like I’ve been put here by my children.” Looking forward: “I worry about my grandchildren’s future…the kind of world it will be.”
  • “I’m lucky I got this far  (after serious health issues) and got to meet my new great-grandchild…and hope I’ll be around to watch her grow next year. I’m feeling sorry for myself–I ended up here. I don’t like feeling this way. Then I look at the picture of that beautiful baby and I’m glad I’m here” (86).

As we make our New Year’s resolutions, the above may provide ideas  when thinking about helping our aging parents. There’s uncertainty ahead as always, but perhaps more of it in today’s world for both young and old….but then again, there’s also hope.  May 2012 be a good year for you and your aging parents as we try to help parents age well.

(PS. The first 4 responses are from people living independently; the last 4 are from those in assisted living.)


Unintended Consequences as We Try to Help Aging Parents

When Aging Parents Move and We Try to Help–Telephones! 

Will Our Telephone # Move Too?

Unlike cell numbers, hard-wired telephone numbers don’t necessarily follow to a new residence–even when it’s not far from the previous residence. For aging parents, telephone numbers need to follow from the “get-go.” Obvious? Perhaps. Under stressful conditions–perhaps not.Unintended consequences, are just that. We don’t think about them until we’re left with the damage control. And if we’re responsible as we try to help aging parents, it’s easy to become angry with ourselves for creating additional problems that disappoint parents and can unnecessarily involve siblings.


An 85-year-old relative recently moved from her condo to assisted living–not a move she initiated. Several months of worsening mobility problems and a series of hospitalizations jeopardized living alone.

The last several years she and her 3 grown children had discussed the wisdom of moving. Friends in her condo complex had died or moved. And there was an attractive independent-living place nearby, making it easy to maintain her routines.

My relative is smart, organized, active, loved her condo of 40+ years and hung on to her independence–through many serious health events.  But last month her doctors advised she needed assisted–not independent–living. She gave in and asked her children to arrange for the move while she recovered in a hospital.

What’s a telephone got to do with it?

To reiterate from past posts, connections to others is one of the 3 most important factors in healthy aging. And telephones provide a major way of connecting with others. Indeed older people may have their friends’ numbers on automatic dial as memories fade.

My relative’s caring, efficient children notified the phone company to close her account immediately.  It was an easy thing to cross off a long list. But suddenly they realized friends couldn’t contact her.  She had a completely new phone number at the assisted-living facility, which used another provider.

Think about new phone numbers being a problem for aging parents and grandparents who downsize (and for their aging/old friends).  If they remain in the same area of their city/town and stay with the same phone company it’s more likely that the phone number won’t change. Simply tell the phone company that although the address is changing, your parents want to keep the same #.

1.  However, do not notify the phone company to stop an aging/old parent’s existing phone service before asking if they can transfer the old telephone number to the new address. Otherwise the existing phone number can be given away.

2.  Check out–ahead– the phone system/provider at the new place. When an institution has its own system or a different phone provider, it may be best to ask the person in charge to take care of having your parents’ old phone number transferred immediately if it’s doable. This eliminates having aging parents in a new living situation feel even more isolated because friends can’t phone them.

My relative’s children report it was a hassle to get the old phone number back–took 3 weeks to accomplish.  “We were just lucky,” they added.  (It may not be this difficult everywhere.)

It was simpler back in the day, when “Reach out and touch someone” was part of a well-known telephone ad; when accessing a live human being on the other end of a business’s line was the norm. Never-the-less we can prevent unintended consequences and, in the case of telephones, maintain that connectedness so important for older people’s aging well. It doesn’t take too much effort…when we have a “heads up.” Otherwise, it pays (to use an old Revlon nail polish ad) to “Make haste slowly.”