Most adult children of aging parents understand the importance of attending to a parent’s physical, medical and financial needs. But we often overlook the psychological aspects of aging, according to geriatric nursing specialists. It’s hard to grasp what it is like to be at a stage of life we haven’t reached yet, and aging isn’t a subject seniors talk about with ease. But we need to try to understand what they are experiencing so we can be sensitive to their feelings as we take on even more responsibility for their care.
What would our parents tell us about aging if they could? Here are 12 things that aging parents and those who care for them think it’s important for us to understand:
1.) “It’s hard to admit that I need help.” Adult children are often frustrated when parents who can no longer manage on their own still resist having someone come in to help. To us, it’s the only way to ensure they’re being well cared for. But to them, the introduction of help may mean something more distasteful – it reinforces feelings that they are losing their independence. Accepting help can also constitute an invasion of privacy or disruption of routine.
2.) “I need time to adjust to change.” It takes time to admit they can no longer do everything themselves. Some people accept help willingly as a means of staying in their homes. Others are hesitant at first but slowly adjust as they see that assistance makes their lives easier.
3.) “Don’t talk down to me.” Imagine living a long, rich, productive life only to be spoken to and treated condescendingly by someone decades younger.
4.) “I’m not helpless.” Just as offensive is the assumption many younger adults make that age equals incompetence.
5.) “My biggest fear is being a burden.” Years of caring for her mother-in-law had taught Annette how much pride her mother-in-law took in living independently. But Annette didn’t realize how sensitive her mother-in-law was to the amount of care she still needed until she developed a kidney infection. As it came on, Annette spent 3 days and nights caring for her. Annette didn’t give her caretaking much thought, but her mother-in-law did. When she finally had to be hospitalized, she told the nurse how glad she was that Annette would finally get some rest.
6.) “I need to feel useful.” Everyone needs to feel a sense of competency, a sense of not being totally dependent on others.
7.) “I still want to live my own life.” Rather than live with adult children and fear becoming a burden, some people prefer moving to an assisted living facility. Older adults want to be around people their own age and get involved in activities.
8.) “I miss all of my old friends.” Most seniors with loving family around them realize how blessed they are. But friendships are also important. When chances to share feelings, problems and memories with friends dwindle, the loss can be a major blow to a person’s sense of well being.
9.) “I don’t feel any different on the inside.” It’s impossible for younger, healthier children to understand what it’s like to experience the physical losses, changes and deterioration that accompany aging – especially for individuals who remain mentally sharp and still feel whole in mind and spirit. People tend to see themselves as the same continuous person regardless of how old they may be.
10.) “Walkers are for old people.” Esther says, “When I’m out with a walker, people look at me like they feel sorry for me and I hate that.” Though a walker or cane keeps older people safer and prevents them from falling, they see it differently.
11.) “It hurts to leave home.” Older people often miss their house, friends, and neighborhood that were such an important part of their live. It can be traumatic to adjust to a new surrounding and signals that their lives have changed forever. Even when elders decide on their own to give up their home, there is still the issue of what it signifies.
12.) “My memories are precious.” Surround your parents with memories that include photographs of children, grandchildren, pictures of special occasions, chronicles of your life that are important.
The more sensitive we can be about what our aging parents are going through, the more we can offer the kind of help they really need.