On the topic of aging parents, Chief Psychologist Dr. Milton Greenblatt says,
First we are children to our parents, then parents to our children, then parents to our parents, then children to our children
From my experience, this is a very accurate quote. We take our time as children for granted. Suddenly, comes the shocker: We must parent our aging parents or loved ones! If you are there now, you know what I mean. You didn’t see this one coming!
First of all, intellectually we know that our parents’ health can decline and (in the back of our minds) that we may have to help in some way, “down the road”. But when this time suddenly happens, we are shocked! Mom or Dad have always taken care of themselves, yet (seemingly) out of nowhere, we have become our parent’s parent – And we’re not ready!
Sometimes, the decline of aging parents or loved ones can sneak up on us when we are not watching closely enough. If you are frequently with your aging parents, or other elderly loved ones, you may notice slight changes in their behavior, surroundings, habits, hobbies, interests, and the like. The changes are slight, so you rationalize that your aging parents or loved ones are OK. Things change as we age, right? Yes, but some changes are significant indicators that we really do need to take notice of. We would never intentionally harm our loved ones. Sadly, we sometimes ignore these indicators even to the point of endangering our Loved One’s health or safety.
Furthermore, significant cognitive or physical changes occur gradually in the aging process. As a result, it is easy to overlook issues and not take action. Consequently, I have heard adult kids express frustration, resentment or anger because their aging parents or loved ones:
Are no longer keeping their house clean
Do not get up and make their own breakfast
Leave dishes unwashed
Have no desire to go out and mow the lawn anymore
Refuse to hook up the camper and meet at the lake for the weekend.
It seems to me that the kids do not realize that their aging parents or loved one was gradually experiencing significant cognitive or physical impairment. In the beginning, the signs are difficult to recognize. Oftentimes it is not obvious if you personally haven’t experienced anything like this before, or you haven’t been professionally trained to recognize these things.
Let’s admit that we are all going to get older as we ourselves become aging parents:
We are going to forget some things
Regular daily activities will not continue forever
Our diet will change as our taste buds change
Interests will change
Daily activity or energy for those activities may decrease.
Changes are normal and are to be expected. However, when these changes escalate to the point where it diminishes our ability to function at “normal” levels, we may need assistance. Does that mean that our family should put us in a nursing home and forget about us? I think not. With this in mind, I believe that we should help our Loved One prepare by creating a Plan. This Plan is a path for us (you), as their Caregivers, to follow – one that will ensure them, and us as caregiver, a better quality of life.
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The aging process typically comes with diminishing cognitive and physical functioning. How do we recognize the change?
When do we determine it is significant to our aging parents’ health or safety? We have included a resource to help you focus on some of the factors that have an impact on your aging parents ability to function. Sometimes, a little assistance can go a long way. To allow our aging parents to remain at home, we may have a family member stop by once or twice a day. This could be all the assistance that is needed. This is especially true during the early stages of decline. Later in the decline, family often has to schedule time with their aging parent or loved one. Optionally, some choose to hire home caregivers. As care needs become more involved, intensive home or facility care may be required.
If it seems like your aging parents or loved ones are in this place, please download the Assessment of Aging Parents today, and rate them on the factors mentioned. Although these are not the only factors to consider, this Assessment is a great first step of the journey in assisting your aging parents or loved ones. Additionally, once you determine what level of functioning your aging parents or loved ones are at, we recommend to download our Help Me Help Momma Journey Stop Checklist. You will find some specific steps to consider at each Journey Stop.
In conclusion, watching Mom or Dad decline is not for the faint of heart. We remember them in their glory days and desperately want them to get back to this level of functioning. The good news is that sometimes, with your help, they can make strides in that direction. But even in situations where they are not progressing, you can take steps to make the remainder of their life as physically, functionally, and cognitively stimulating as possible.