Where did I leave my glasses?
Why did I come into this room?
Speak louder. I can’t hear you.
I won’t be able to go to your party; I don’t like to drive at night.
Why don’t my kids call? All they want to do is text.
If you’re older than sixty-five, you may have said one or more of the above. I’m not over sixty-five, and I’ve said at least one. Aging is a process that can be either painful or smooth, depending upon your attitude.
I’m not discounting the aches and pains of an aging body, nor am I dismissing those in chronic pain. I’m talking about the mental part of getting older. It’s about getting used to physical limitations and accepting change with grace. As a caregiver, we can help our loved ones with the losses they experience.
George began to notice it was more difficult to return to a standing position after playing on the floor with his grandkids. He found himself more tired after a day of golf and woke up with a stiff back the day after. He complained to his wife over coffee one morning.
“You’re not getting any younger, you know,” she responded.
George was soon preoccupied with every twinge, stab, ache, and pain. If he had a headache, he was convinced he had a brain tumor. A stomach upset sent him to WebMD to see if he had stomach cancer. If his hands shook after too much caffeine, he was sure he had Parkinson’s.
George withdrew from life. He stopped playing golf because he couldn’t deal with the morning-after stiffness. No more playing on the floor with his grandkids. Depression sucked the life out of him.
Mary’s husband died after fifty-plus years of marriage. At seventy-five, she decided to take the trip to the Holy Land she’d always desired, but her husband hadn’t wanted to. She took pictures of herself riding a camel, a donkey, and an elephant. She travelled to Europe twice more and Hawaii three times. She got down on the floor to play with her great-grandchildren, regardless of how difficult it was to get up. She walked a mile every day. She suffered through a shoulder replacement and knee surgery. She delighted the kids in her neighborhood by dressing up as Minnie Mouse every Halloween. At five foot nothing, she was the perfect Minnie. Mary refused to give in to the pain of getting old.
It’s obvious who aged more gracefully. Mary lived until the age of ninety-four. George died at seventy, but one could argue he died several years prior.
Sometimes we caregivers need to coax, prod, and occasionally shove our aging loved ones to stay active. It is much easier to grow roots into the recliner, only getting up to eat or use the bathroom. How can we help our elderly parents be a Mary rather than a George?
Engage with your loved one. Encourage them to keep their mind active. Work on a jigsaw puzzle together or a crossword. Play cards. Anything to help them stay sharp. It will help you too.
- If you aren’t able to see your parent every day, call them just to say hello.
- Take a walk around your neighborhood. Point out what others have done to spruce up their yards. Encourage your loved one to greet his neighbors. Don’t let him grumble about going outside.
- Go for a drive to someplace different. Even if it’s just to another part of your community, a change of scenery is always welcome.
- Finally, have your parent see his family doctor. Withdrawal may be more than getting older. Your loved one may have clinical depression. Sometimes a mild dose of anti-depressant may be needed to treat a chemical imbalance in the brain.
Growing older doesn’t have to be about losing. It can also be a time of richness if we aren’t afraid to step out and try new things.