As our parents get older, we must care more for them, and our relationship with them changes – for better or for worse. Here are some ideas to care for your aging parents.
1. Care for them by telling stories
Elderly parents live in the stories of their children and grandchildren. Grandpa and grandma tell and retell the stories of their offspring to whomever are prepared to listen. The greatest need of aging parents is to hear from you. When you phone your parents, don’t cut the call short. They want to hear the detail of your stories and your children’s stories. They literally live by these stories.
You can’t ease their physical ailments, nor stop them getting older, but you can add to the meaning of their lives by making that phone call, and make it regularly. Enjoy it.
2. Our aging parents are in a dire need of listeners.
Grandparents live by stories. They love to tell and retell the stories of days gone by; of their youth. They are in a need of somebody who could be quiet and who listens respectfully to their stories. Open up a conversational space for your aging mom/dad, a space where they can be at home with themselves in telling the stories of their lives. This is to validate their identity! They are their stories – listen to them. This is one of the greatest gifts you can give to them.
3. Try to understand the feelings of your parents.
“Aging is a series of losses — loss of employment, health and energy, friends, mobility, and independence” (M Tartakovsky). These losses ask for a lot of adaptions; and adaptions are mostly hard work. You will encounter your parents’ frustration, moody behavior or neediness. In fact, on some days, they might be downright unpleasant to be around. But it’s important to understand where they’re coming from. They need your compassion more than ever.
Let them share their emotional pain. And, this is crucial, share your own vulnerability and sorrow in observing them getting weaker and frail. Make it safe for them to share their loneliness and fear of the nearing end. Share and share. Make that emotional connection. It is exactly this emotional closeness that makes the unbearable bearable for both, for you and your parent.
4. Create a social media group with the extended family.
Get other family and friends involved. The more connection the lesser the pain and depression! Loneliness kills. Loneliness makes them prone to earlier dementia. Loneliness will shorten their lives. Share your parents’ health situation, share the stories. A social media group makes it easier to coordinate visits and share responsibilities.
6. Structure elderly parents lives to include daily physical activity.
Physical activity is key for improving mood, endurance, balance and strength and delaying cognitive decline. Aging parents can walk, or participate in exercise programs for seniors.
7. Aging parents’ agency of making their own decisions is critical for their longevity.
The moment you take away your parents right to make their own decisions, they will begin to decline in their health.