Approaching your parents’ aging challenges gently
You and your parents can ease into aging if you approach it gently.
On her most recent visit to her widowed father’s house, Shelley noticed that mold was growing from what used to be a wet spot on the kitchen ceiling. Prior to being a wet spot, Shelley had noticed a brown stain and told her father, “You should call a roofer to see if you’ve got a leak.” Her father took a long look at the spot and agreed. But every time after the discovery of the spot, instead of the problem being fixed, it was progressively worse.
Shelley’s said her father always was “grumpy” and as he aged, her children joked that “grumpy” became “grumpier” and then “grumpiest.” On the occasions that Shelley and her husband Tom decided to solve Shelley’s father’s problems, the result was resentment, accusations and long stretches of silence.
One of the most common fears related to aging is the loss of independence. Often, when faced with evidence that they can’t adequately handle their daily lives, seniors react with nature’s greatest survival strategy: fight or flight. Shelley’s father’s “grumpy” behavior was his attempt to fight the aging process. Seniors who become withdrawn or even lie about forgetfulness or inability to handle things can be seen as fleeing the aging process.
In many instances of aging challenges, approaching each situation as a peacemaker almost always garners a better outcome. When you’re faced with one of the situations below, try being a Gandhi or Jimmy Carter and see if you’re not happier with the outcome.
Memory issues — As people age, short-term memory declines. It’s a frustrating fact of life that adult children list as their number one frustration with their aging parents. Many adult children find that creating a memory aid process reduces their own stress. Multi-colored sticky notes (e.g. yellow for medication reminders, green for bill paying reminders, etc.), checklists and regularly scheduled phone calls can help keep an aging parent on track.
Household tasks — Light bulbs and smoke alarm batteries that don’t get replaced and mousetraps that should be set are among the top household tasks that remain uncompleted by seniors. Many seniors experience the onset of anxiety as they age and something that they used to take in stride (a mousetrap snapping as they try to put it in place) is now something they’d rather avoid. A light bulb coming on as it’s screwed into place and a loud beep when a new battery is put in a smoke alarm are sometimes reason enough to avoid a task. In situations like this, grandchildren or a neighbor teen for hire can be a perfect solution. Grandchildren and teens are often more subservient when offering assistance and the dynamic allows a senior to retain power.
Technology — You (or your teenage child) just programmed the universal remote a week ago but your father admits that the first time he used it he made a mess of it all. There should be no finger pointing here. Technology changes so fast that even if your eyesight and cognitive functioning are at top form, you’re always on a learning curve. Try using permanent markers to color code buttons and create an instruction sheet (with larger capital letters and drawings of the remote) that refers to the colored buttons along with arrows pointing to locations of specific buttons. Make more than one copy of the instruction sheet and bring one home with you so you can provide “on call” tech help.
You and your parents can ease into aging if you approach it gently. There’s no need to fight or flee if you meet peacefully on common ground.