Caring For Aging Parents

By Tracy Helling

“Stand up in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the Lord.”

~Leviticus 19:32

They aren’t our children. They may be regressing in some ways, and even behave in childish fashions, but they are not our children. One of the easiest ways to cause our relationship with senior parents to become adversarial is to condescend or dictate to them. It’s amazing how many adult children say things to their parents which, when they were young, would have made them very angry. We need to treat our parents with the same respect that we would want. They are still adults, and though they may need our wisdom and guidance more and more if they are losing mental capacity, they can still detect condescension, irritation, bossiness and impatience.

Seniors move slowly. They think slowly, speak slowly, eat slowly, make decisions slowly, and lose their once sharp organizational skills. They may not hear well, see well, or have great balance. We need to make time allowances for all those activities which may now take them longer, and not rush them. If we rush them it will likely only make them anxious, clumsy and irritable. Our hurry is not their problem.

Let them tell their stories. Nearing the end of one’s life, there is nothing there to look forward to, but if their life has been full and relatively rewarding, there is lots to look back on, and reminiscing is a wonderful activity for seniors. Quite often, it can release endorphins and relieve anxiety, and many times they are able to go to sleep quickly and peacefully after a time of happy reminiscing.

Start talking now about lifestyle changes that will come in the future. “How would you like to be talked with about giving up driving?” “What things should precipitate a move from home into a more appropriate living space?” Talk about getting power of attorney and long term care insurance–all talks that should be ongoing and frank while Mom and Dad are still very independent and functioning well. Hard discussions with our children and adolescents about life changing things shouldn’t be avoided, and the same is true for our parents. Getting their thoughts about whether or not to have them revived with extraordinary measures, and if/when they want hospice at the end of their lives, all these things will give both us and our parents peace of mind when the time comes, knowing how they felt about these subjects. They will know you care enough to be thinking of them ahead of time.

If parents should suffer from dementia, there may come a time when they don’t know who we are. This is not a valid reason to not visit frequently; for our parent’s sake our frequent visits help us to keep a close eye on the quality of their care and for accountability of the people who are caring for them. We know who THEY are. This is all we need to know. Honoring them has nothing to do with how they function. It is something between us and God.

A quick note about dementia. Quite often I describe it as a long play record which is being erased from the last track to the first. Most recent life experiences will disappear first from their long term memory. The oldest, most “hard wired” memories are the last to go. Encouraging them to talk about the things they do remember (and not quizzing and trying to jog their memory about things they’ve forgotten) is soothing for them. It can trigger great anxiety in them to be interrogated by loved ones who insist they SHOULD be able to remember their spouse is dead, or that they moved from their home to the present care center years ago instead of just days ago.

It is important (as much as possible) to enter into our loved one’s reality, and not attempt to orient them to time and date, that part of their skill set is gone. They can still laugh, love, listen, and reminisce, but they are creatures of the here and now. The future and recent past have no meaning for them, so we allow them the peace of being where they are.

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Tracy Helling is an Activities Professional in a Senior community, working in a variety of roles with Seniors since 2011. She lives in Spokane, WA with her husband and three sons.

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#PastorsTip #Leviticus19 #Seniors #Parents #Retirement #CareHome #Dementia #Alzheimers #EndOfLife #Hospice #MemoryCare

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