On October 14th and 21st, Hebrew SeniorLife gathered together geriatric thought-leaders, researchers and physicians to hold an importance discussion about the steps one should take to help aging parents as they make decisions regarding health and well-being. Those discussions culminated in an ebook, “You & Your Aging Parents: A Family Approach to Lifelong Health, Wellness & Care", which Hebrew SeniorLife is offering as a free downloadable pdf. The discussion also inspired our “You and Your Aging Parents” blog series, a series which includes this blog post and covers the various issues and concerns you may encounter as you and your parent/s continue on the journey of aging.
To understand the challenges of aging parents, you must begin by walking in their shoes and realizing that the walk is a marathon - not a sprint. This means being present when you’re with them and talking with them about the journey they are on. The adult child can better understand the changes that have been occurring to their parents by asking them to describe what is important to them as they age and understanding their values and goals. Based on their answers, it is important to acknowledge what they are still able to do, what they can do with assistance from others, and what these changes mean to them in context of their values and goals.
Recognize that the changes they face often mean losing the ability to function in certain areas. There is a lot of information to be ascertained from the physical, psychological and adaptive changes your parents may make to cope. How your parents deal with the loss of certain abilities will be determined, in part, by their resiliency – whether they have the physical and mental reserves, emotional fortitude and spiritual health to respond to and withstand tough times. Having their own coping mechanisms, as well as support from others, can help them move through these significant changes and allow for acceptance.
If you observe your parent’s medical situation changing and impacting their ability to maintain their independence and function, use that as an opening to talk about how they are dealing with these changes and to ask them how that makes them feel. This requires listening skills, active engagement and carving out time to have this type of conversation. It is important to reflect on what they tell you and then talk about it.
You can start by asking them for their parental wisdom in a personal situation you are facing. As the dialogue continues you can get the conversation to shift and begin talking about their dreams and goals and what’s really important to them to still try to accomplish in their life. If you can determine with them the barriers that are preventing them from achieving those goals, you can talk with them about putting together a plan to help them attain those goals in their remaining years. Understand those goals will change over time based on what they’re capable of doing.
Remember, this is an ongoing process of learning and sharing. By sharing your own challenges with your parents, you begin to open up productive communication and allow you to better help aging parents. This allows for better understanding of what your parents want as they age and helps you appreciate the changes you will encounter as you navigate the road ahead.
To download your copy of our “You and Your Aging Parents” ebook, visit our website, www.agingredefined.org.