Every year, we celebrate another birthday and grow a year older. With each passing year, we change. Many of us feel like our parents are invincible and a steady constant in our lives. But for our aging parents, time marches on too. And you may have noticed some changes as your parents get older.
Often, there comes a moment when we realize changes are happening with our older parents—perhaps it’s holding their arm to steady them as they walk, helping them up from a chair, or repeating a conversation. They might be getting a little slower and weaker, experiencing vision or hearing loss, or suffering from chronic pain. You may also notice changes in their mental health, like forgetfulness, grief from losing a spouse or close friends, loneliness, or anxiety. And all these changes may leave you feeling concerned.
Facing the fact that your parent is getting older can be empowering. If you can come to terms with their changing needs, you can take the necessary steps to support them, discuss their wishes, and make modifications to their home. These decisions and changes may not be easy, but denying or delaying a decision could affect your parent’s quality of life or safety.
Also, don’t underestimate the role reversal this might mean for you. Life comes full circle as you care for your parents. And this new role may make you uneasy. By acknowledging the season of life that your parent is in, you can take steps together to plan how their future looks, where they might live, and what type of care they may need. Do your elderly parents wish to age in place or move to an assisted living community? Are they noticing changes in their physical or mental health? What are their biggest concerns? By having these conversations, you can normalize the topics around their age and discover what they want before they need help. By knowing their wishes, you can make confident decisions on their behalf.
How to Deal with the Emotions Around Your Parents Getting Older
Seeing changes and vulnerabilities in your parent can bring up a lot of feelings—worry, anxiety, fear, or frustration. Here are a few simple ways to manage your emotions so that you can be more supportive:
Get to Know Your Parents All Over Again
We all hold an image of our parents in our minds, usually from the perspective of childhood. You might be holding a mental picture of them from when you were younger, and they were much younger too. As your parents grow older, your images of them may not have caught up with reality.
What else are you not seeing? Here is your opportunity to get to know your parents better as if you are meeting them for the first time. Do they have new hobbies or passions that they are pursuing? Are they active? What keeps their interest? They are more than your parents. They are individuals. It’s your chance to get to know your parents all over again!
Finding Resources to Let Go of Emotions
Whether you are a caregiver for your parent full time or have concerns about their overall health, there will be times that you will feel anxious, frustrated, or exhausted. Create a support system of individuals who listen to your fears and concerns without judgment so you can deal with your emotions.
Remember, your siblings may be going through the same emotions as you. Finding a friend who has had a similar experience with their parents can help you. Also, consider a therapist who can provide professional advice or a support group in your community. Having resources, outside of your family dynamics, will give you a different perspective. When someone is not as emotionally involved, they can provide you with a clear, objective opinion. Wherever you turn for help, having resources is a healthy way to manage your emotions, and ultimately, be a better caregiver or support for your parents.
Savoring the Time You Have Together with Your Parents
Life can get hectic, especially if you balance a job, home, and family. Even if you are busy, try to communicate with your loved one regularly and be present in the moment. If your schedule allows, set aside a specific time each week or reserve time on your calendar to talk to your loved one on the phone. Send a short text between calls, so they know you are thinking of them.
If you are close enough to see each other often, make it a habit to get together in person. Invite them for a regular weekly dinner or lunch. Make sure they are included in family events and activities like a grandchild’s recital or baseball game. Try starting a new hobby together, like knitting, painting, or cooking. Or work together on a project like redecorating a grandchild’s bedroom or planning your summer garden. You can keep it as simple as sharing a favorite television show or reading the same book. Time together, on the phone or in person, is a great way to keep on top of how they are doing and will help you accept where they are in their life’s journey.
Changes to Make in Their Home
The aging process is as individual as the person. It is not the same for everyone, and not everyone feels the same way about aging. You love your parents and want the best for them in their golden years. By spending time in their home and asking open-ended questions, you can determine their physical and emotional needs. Some seniors prefer to stay in their homes and bring in home care. Others might want the support of a retirement or assisted living community. Some parents are open to more help. Others might not want to bother you or feel like a burden. There will be obstacles to navigate and feelings to consider through this stage of their life for your family.
If they wish to age at home, finding out what they need and how they need support is important. You don’t always need to break down walls and make major renovations. By making minor changes and modifications to their home, you can help them continue to live independently for as long as possible.
When planning to age in place, safety is paramount. Reducing falls should be considered in every room of their home. Due to mobility issues with age, look for tripping hazards, like clutter on the floor or a loose rug. Wet floors in a bathroom can be a fall risk. Install grab bars inside and outside of the shower. Improve your lighting, both inside and outdoors, to ensure their paths are illuminated, and dark corners are avoided. If the home has stairs, think about ramps or installing a stairlift. Make sure smoke detectors are working, or you may want to purchase a new one for the hearing or visually impaired equipped with a loud alarm, flashing strobe lights, and a bed or pillow shaker.
Smart technology can create a safety net for seniors in their homes and is easily operated by their phone or simple voice commands. A smart thermostat can ensure that your loved one stays warm in the winter and comfortable throughout the year. Smart lights can be programmed to go on and off at certain times, and motion sensors can trigger lights to come on when entering a room. A medical alert system will ensure they can get help in the event of a fall, and a smart pill dispenser can avoid dosage mistakes. And a smart bed, like the Dawn House sleep system, can help monitor their vitals and keep you in the loop of any changes in their sleep or health patterns.
Through communication with your parents, you can learn where they stand and the role you might play in their care going forward. As parents age, their needs will change. If you listen closely, you can determine how you can best support them in a way that is respectful and honors their wishes. Change can be hard. But if you are proactive, you can help your parents thrive as they age.