Has it been a while since you went home to see your folks? A funny thing happens when we age. Ask any elder and they will tell you that as we age time seems to go faster and faster. As a professional, in a field of aging, we have noticed that 2 years for a middle-aged person is like 6 months for a senior, in terms of change brought on by aging.
If it has been a few months or a year or so since your last visit home you may notice some marked differences in your parent’s living environment, their physique, their cognitive state and even perhaps in their overall health with no specific ailment. Everything may be just as stable as your last visit or perhaps remarkably different.
Not knowing what you will notice, or perhaps be concerned by, below are different elements that will guide you to see the entire situation as it is. By seeing the situation simply as it is can offer you a wider brush stroke to equip you on how to help or to open up conversations, should you notice a loss of autonomy, and accompany your parents the best way you know how.
Here are a variety of items that come into play:
-Every set-up and every situation is surrounded by so many different moving parts. If you are going home to visit with your parents, both alive, or in a relationship, compared to going to visit your Dad who is widowed and lives alone, the support received and offered in both those situations is very different. Couples create a team whereas someone who lives alone or is single usually depends on their family in vastly different ways. Yet again, someone who has no children, like your aunt who never married will reach out for help or advice in a different manner then a widowed person would. Married, widowed, never married, with or without affects all the conversations that surround aging and “letting in help”. Couples create their own counsel, whereas widowed people with children will depend more on their children and seniors whom never had children or never married will engage differently towards support and guidance.
-Family dynamics is another big part of the puzzle that comes into the mix as parents age. Each and everyone has a different relationship, specialized approach and history as well as politics with each individual and for sure this is all heightened when family is at the table. As family members age it can bring out fears and reactions that can affect how one wishes to interact or engage in different conversations or to avoid certain subjects like the plague. At this age, with the history that surrounds you you know what to expect….it might not be what you like or what you strive on, but it is what it is.
-Your sibling or neighbour who checks in often with your Mom, Dad or aunt may mention certain changes or declines that you might not notice or visa versa. During your stay you may pick up on different signs of a decline in autonomy whereas others might not. For example, if you are there over a few days you will get to see your family member take on many daily tasks. On the other hand, your brother or sister who are only there for dinner and then leave will only catch a glimpse of a daily routine. Observing a variety of daily tasks may allow you to see a wider range of change that your sibling may not believe exists because he or she may not have witnessed it before. Not observing the differences your sibling may not understand how that new situation could be because the behaviour you witnessed may not have been manifested at the dinner table by your Dad. By sharing your thoughts or comments it can create controversy. Stay strong. Stay true. The ultimate goal is your parent’s well being and nothing else. It has nothing to do with a ‘he said she said’.
-We are all on a spectrum of aging. At times adaptations are made slowly within years of stability while other times we are propelled into quick and rapid adjustments. Change is hard, especially when we near the end of our lives because it toys with unaccomplished or unfinished projects and dreams, aspirations, our own mortality, a loss of friends or a spouse, or an alteration in ability and so much more.
-At times it can be quite surprising to notice age, especially in our parents. As odd as that might seem. Simply be an observer during your stay. Without judgement and without prejudice especially if they are digging in their heels towards change. It is so much easier to see a situation that is outside of us or not ours and that includes moments of aging. Your parents do not notice the changes as much as on-lookers do, it makes sense. As a child or a family member we often want to lend a hand and pitch in when we notice a love one needing help, but we do not allows know how to do it. Also, if we verbalize our thoughts or concerns, they could be meet with crossed arms and abstinence. Reponses that might face an offer to help might be “No. We are ok. We do not need help, right Dear?’, “I do not know why you are so worried; we are fine.” When families reach out an offer support that is denied entry we often hear “You know, I really want to help but my Dad/Mom is so stubborn and does not want to do anything to help themselves. It is so frustrating.”
This is the first time everyone around the table is living this new situation and this new kink in life. Be rest assured that you are not alone and that there is plenty of support that surrounds you. Yes, there are often similarities but there is no cookies cutter approach that can work. Always keep in mind the people at the center of this equation. This is about your parents, their life as well as their wishes. What they do and how they do it might drive you mad and you may completely disagree with their actions and we know how frustrating that can be but always remind yourself that this is about them and their choices for their own life, not yours.
Enjoy your time around the table and soak up the people that surround you during this festive meal and celebrations. At the blink of an eye so much can change. While you are sitting around the table, or are now back home and placing a phone call home to discuss the thoughts that are swirling in your head, here are details to pay attention to that will help open up conversations in a positive fashion.:
-Your every word matters. Should you wish to open up the conversation to go towards adaptions, may it be to hire staff or find a new mode of transportation, or to start exploring the idea of moving, think of the words you are using. Here is some of the language we have heard: ‘force her to move’, ‘they need to be placed’, ‘we will push them to do something for themselves’ –there seems to be a lot of bullying in these approaches. Is this the type of language or approach that you would appreciate used on you if you were living through grief, loss and fear? Probably not. How about these words?: ‘encourage her to’, ‘we will discuss different options’, ‘help them to move’, ‘we will look into a variety of options for them’….this whole process of adapting can be done in a positive light and with a positive approach. Every word will affect the openness to discuss in every conversation.
-The situation you are in is unique on every level and will always be. The walker the neighbour has or the residence that your uncle moved into is all about that one person and no one else. Each life is different in every way with different factors that alter potential options.
-When our parents age it affects everyone individually and not everyone is comfortable with it, depending how life unfolds. A sudden dramatic change in health, like a stroke, can rattle everyone’s cage and hasten every process everything from downsizing, moving and adapting. In contrast, a slow constant but steady shift in cognitive or physical health will bring on conversations that could span over a few years, depending of how the level of autonomy evolves.
We get it. We understand how frustrating it can be.
As mentioned on page 16 of Stay or Move? ‘An apple will become a ripe apple and not a ripe pear.’ You can not change your parent. The only thing you can change is your approach.
We recommend, as challenging as it might be to sit down at the family table as an observer more then a problem solver. Sit back and try to identify the tangible changes. What is it you are noticing? What are some of the concerns that are being shared during the dinner conversation or in the kitchen during a quiet moment? Perhaps you have noticed a home that is not as tidy as you remember. Perhaps you are noticing more paperwork piling up or there might be medication that just does not seem to be in the proper order. There is nothing to judge, all there is to do is observe. We all live differently, and we all have our own routine. Should judgement come to mind, think of what a visitor might see in your house right now. No judgement just as is for what it is.
Always remember that each and every step of aging is a process and a journey. Everything and everyone is forever changing. Constantly stay on your toes and never ever sit back nor dig your heels in, cause the minute you do you will be the one to pay the price.
So, the holidays have come and gone. Concerns about Mom and Dad aging at home are becoming more and more worrisome and you are concerned about their safety at home, but you do not know how to assist. Let us guide you through different steps and difficult conversations with the book Stay or Move?. For a limited time offer shipping and handling is on us!