Aging Parents Who’ve Lost Interest in Appearance and Healthy Routines–Part 2

Flowers Outside StoreMother had physical therapy with an excellent, encouraging therapist after her stroke and made good progress. I think she made the effort more for him than for herself. Why? Because her follow-though at home was minimal to nonexistent after the therapy ended (as I saw it). Of course in her younger days, fitness wasn’t as valued as it is now.

Fitness: As far as I know, Mother never routinely exercised….probably because she had the good fortune to be naturally small. Was it lack of discipline, loss of energy, or inertia? Or is it simply that it’s hard to teach “old dogs new tricks”?

The best solution for her was the exercise from our outings–or outings with other family members–plus her daily short walk out to the mail box. Getting in and out of a car and walking moves muscles and joints; must also help circulation. Clearly it beats being a “couch potato.” If this idea resonates click the link in the previous post for specifics and ideas, if you haven’t read it.  

Mother said she wanted to drive again. I remember pointing out (“objectively stating” would be the counseling term–no emotion inserted in the conversation) there was no reason she couldn’t drive, but she needed to be able to walk and get in and out of the car by herself. While the idea appealed to her, she never followed through. Inertia? Loss of energy? I’m guessing it was just too much of an effort.

Appearance is probably more easily and earlier noticed than a lack of healthy routines and can involve hygiene. Older and old people face challenges: physical difficulty managing hair + running out of “beauty” and essential products = a less than desirable appearance.

Once-a-week appointments at the hair dresser’s (less often at the barber shop obviously) provide a quick fix in the appearance category. Unkempt hair, as we know, ruins anyone’s appearance. And what about a man’s poorly–or unshaven–face?

Beauty colleges charge less (I assume the same holds true for barber colleges), as my Aunt Millie knew. She continued her regular appointments there–transported by the senior bus–when she went into assisted living in her early 90’s. Aunt M. loved chatting with the young students…it was a social time for her. So who cared if they took longer than the professionals.

Obviously finding ways to motivate aging parents who’ve lost interest requires making things effortless, easier, and/or more fun. It takes creativity and thought. By acknowledging  that non-driving seniors can run out of supplies (think appearance, hygiene, healthy routines) we create an excuse for an outing–which means exercise. Look good, feel better. Regain interest if not energy. No doubt easier said than done– but a worthy goal as we try to help  parents age well.

Aging Parents Who’ve Lost Interest in Appearance and Healthy Routines

Flowers for sale lining doorway to marketOregon. The emphasis on healthy lifestyles is evident from the many joggers and bicyclists (major downtown streets devote space for bicycles only).

I’m in a residential area, looking out my second floor window.  An elderly woman, attractively dressed in a V-neck shirt and kakis, just walked by. I can see the top of her head is balding, yet her short gray hair is stylishly cut. I’m certain very few at street level see the top of her head. She’s walking a black and white pooch, and is stiffly bending over with plastic bag in hand, picking up its droppings. I notice she also walks stiffly–but she’s walking. And that’s the point: she’s exercising, even if her joints aren’t what they once were. (Aren’t animals a great impetus to get people of any age up and out for a walk!)

Along comes a trim 30ish woman in jogging gear, never missing a beat as she overtakes then passes the woman and pooch. I wonder if this younger woman will continue a fitness routine 30- 40-50 years from now, stay slender and value looking good.

What Can We Do About Parents Who No Longer Make the Effort?

Let’s face it. People change, not much. If people never cared about appearance or any semblance of a healthy lifestyle, short of a traumatic event or therapy from a good psychiatrist or psychologist, behavior is unlikely to change.

Thus, we focus on three factors to help aging parents who cared once upon a time, before life got in the way.

1.  Ruling out depression. Statistics tell us depression affects many elderly people.  Diagnosing depression initially requires an appointment with an aging parent’s doctor then, if appropriate, referral to a psychologist or psychiatrist specializing in geriatrics. Click for an 8/2011 UCLA report on depression.

2. Understanding that a lessening of energy accompanies aging at some point. Sometimes there’s not enough energy (psychological and/or physical) to spark the effort required. Can we provide the spark? While there’s no guarantee, why not try?

3.  Remembering or figuring out what aging parents still love–or they once loved doing.  Then developing an improvement strategy involving exercise and appearance.

An example from my mother’s life: Exercise

My mother loved flowers, liked to eat and–in her heyday–loved shopping for clothes and make-up. Figuring out what inspires a woman in her mid-80’s, when osteoporosis and later a stroke make any suggested exercise seem like drudgery, is a challenge. (I put trying on clothes in the “drudgery” category–of course ill-fitting clothing also impacts appearance.)

Because my mother seemed uplifted by a new top and slacks that I brought her, it motivated her to–somewhat tentatively–agree to get some needed clothes. That motivated both of us to learn to gracefully get her walker–and her–in and out of the car. We could go together to a mall. The necessary walking provided needed exercise. We could eat a healthy, tasty lunch and perhaps look at clothing if energy permitted–or even cosmetics. Would she ultimately want to sit long enough for a complimentary make-up/makeover at the department store anchoring the mall?

Food shopping was then added to Mother’s favorite outing list and that’s easy exercise–pushing the shopping cart involves walking as past posts have detailed.

Summer in Oregon inspires beautiful floral displays flanking markets’ entrances (photo above). Buying flowers to take home–or even bringing an elderly person flowers–is good for the spirit. It also provides exercise and good busy work for one who is able to get out vases etc. and make a pretty arrangement.

….continued tomorrow