Experts weigh in on the changes that come with aging family members and strengthening our bonds with them. Brought to you by the Sunshine Terrance Foundation.
What is empathy? It includes perspective taking and recognition of your parents view as their truth, staying out of judgment, recognizing the emotions of your parents and communicating that understanding to them. It is feeling with another person. It is being vulnerable to that same hurt or loneliness or loss they are expressing.
Being empathetic takes time and effort. In our busy days as we balance our needs with the needs of our parents, it can be lost. Sharing feelings can bring more to their lives in ways you never knew.
Love and Appreciation
You love and appreciate your parents. Parents can’t tell this unless you show it by the way you treat them. We might bring heartache without realizing it.
We don’t call them much. We forget special events. We ask for money. We don’t offer help as often as could. We know that including them in family events can be burdensome so the invitation isn’t extended. You can make a change this very day. If you feel you can do more, it's not too late. Begin by picking up the phone and calling. A simple invitation can bring more to their lives in ways you never knew.
Some things never change. You arrive to visit. Mom might offer unsolicited opinions on your weight and wardrobe, and Dad only starts a conversation if it has to do with the Aggies.
The key is to love the best parts of them and learn to accept the rest. You love your mom and dad but when something is bothering you, resentment can eat away at your relationship. Communicate, with gentleness and respect, or redirect the conversation. We help our parents discover the meaning in their lives by encouraging them to talk about their accomplishments, the high points in their lives, and the joys and sorrows they have experienced. Conversation can bring more to their lives in ways you never knew.
End Of Life Issues
Patients and close family members are interested in discussing end-of-life issues with their physician. By speaking openly, the subject of death can become less of a taboo.
People contend with fears, needs, and desires - fear of pain, fear of indignity, fear of abandonment, and fear of the unknown. Open and direct discussions can ease many of these fears. By being involved in these discussions, relationships within the family can be strengthened, and the isolation experienced by a dying parent reduced. Talk with your parents and with their physician so you can bring more to their lives in ways you never knew.
Recognizing Roles And Adjusting
In the complex world of family caregiving, there is no worse advice than this: When your parents need help, you must reverse roles and become their parents.
While you may be the adult child of an aging parent, you will always be their child and they will always be your parent. They may need help. But you will never be their parent.
Parents have the same rights to make mistakes as you did while a child. Maintaining independence and respect on both sides is critical to family dynamics.
Recognizing roles and adjusting can bring more to their lives in ways you never knew.
Shared Decision Making
Aging isn’t for the weak. As you become physically frail and cognitively limited, you lose control of your life. Day-to-day decisions are increasingly shared with other people. Even when to go to the bathroom. It can be embarrassing.
As much as possible, share decision making. Don’t begin with “Mom, you need to” but rather “What do you think we should do?” Help your parents choose. Working together can bring more to their lives in ways you never knew.
Preparation Is Key
An unexpected health event can require you to have key information about a parent. Medical history, health and life insurance information, advanced directives, banking information, deeds and titles, wills, marriage licenses, safety deposit boxes, investments – the list goes on.
Parents may be hesitant to discuss personal matters. It can be a change in the way your family approaches private matters. The more forthcoming your parents can be, the less stress when a health crisis arises. Preparation can bring more to their lives in ways you never knew.
Keep Your Sense Of Humor
Of course, you love your parents — that’s a given. At times, maintaining the bond between parent and adult child can be as challenging as that between parent and teenager.
Keep your sense of humor. When you’re dealing with your parents, laughter can be a lifesaver — both to help you handle the stress of dealing with sometimes difficult individuals and to help you bond together. Tell a few jokes you know they’ll enjoy, share some comics from the paper or e-mail with them, watch reruns of “Bonanza” together. If you can laugh together, you’re doing okay. Humor can bring more to their lives in ways you never knew.
Listening To Music
You might think of music as entertainment, but cutting-edge neurology tells us it’s more. Music is structural, mathematical and architectural. It’s based on relationships between one note and the next causing our brain to compute to make sense of it.
Listening to music can enhance hearing by improving our ability to perceive speech in a noisy environment—common as age-related hearing impairment occurs. Music has the capacity to reach hidden brain areas and evoke memory in older adults. Music can improve your parent’s emotional state. It can uplift the spirit. It can reduce anxiety, stress and agitation. Music can bring more to their lives in ways you never knew.
Nearly 40 percent of older adults take five or more prescription drugs. Be proactive with your parents. Keep a list of the medications taken—with the name of the drug, the dose, how often taken and why. Put a copy in your files at home and have your parents carry one in their wallet to show their doctor or share in case of a medical emergency.
Encourage them to take medications as directed by their doctor, get refills on time and stay alert to side effects and interactions by using a common pharmacy. Their pharmacist may be able to fill a pill dispenser to simplify things. Being involved can bring more to their lives in ways you never knew.
The Benefits Of Caregivers
With demands on time, energy, emotions and relationships, caregiving isn’t easy. So you might think it would take its toll on the physical health of those who care for family members with chronic conditions. But new research offers a positive surprise: Family caregivers may live longer.
Johns Hopkins experts looked at six years of health data for caregivers and non-caregivers. Those who regularly tended to the needs of a family member enjoyed a nine-month extension in life expectancy—even if they felt some stress and strain - and there were no differences in chronic health issues between the two groups.
In many cases, caregivers reported receiving benefits like enhanced self-esteem, recognition and gratitude from their care recipients. Caregiving can bring more to your life in ways you never knew.
Throughout history, artists have known art provides benefits for both the creator and the viewer. We know exercising our creative side enhances the quality of life and nurtures overall well-being. Age doesn’t stop this.
Studies show art can reduce the depression and anxiety that are often a side effect of chronic disease. Research demonstrates that the imagination and creativity of older adults can flourish in later life, helping us realize unique, unlived potentials, even when battling Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease. Making art or even viewing art causes the brain to continue to reshape, adapt, and restructure, expanding the potential to increase brain reserve capacity.
Artistic expression can bring more to their lives in ways you never knew.
The Aging Brain
This is Steve Tracy, Bringing More to Life. Parents forget high blood pressure, poor sleep, excess alcohol, and medicine can slow a brain down. Purpose in life, social networks, stimulating activities; these help protect aging brains. Rather than worrying about memory lapse, direct energy towards mental exercise, physical activity, and maintaining a social life. Ask your parents how they spend their time and encourage change. Start the conversation now to bring more to their lives.
This is Brian Erickson in Bringing More to Life. All caregivers are not created equal. Give yourself time to learn this new role. Observe and ask for advice from peers who also face the challenge of parenting parents. Worry less about doing it right and focus more on showing you care. Remember often, your presence is enough. Engage and appreciate care facility staff; they know your parent’s needs. Start the conversation now to bring more to their lives.
This is Randy Watts, Bringing More to Life. Will you be a caregiver? For the first time, adult couples have more parents than children. How do you prepare for this new role? Communication is key to success in any job. The role of a caretaker is no exception. Begin with your parents’ wishes. Talk to them about personal goals: housing, legal, financial, and medical decisions. Some of these conversations may be easy, some will be difficult. Start the conversation now to bring more to their lives.
Care for Themselves
This is Steve Tracy, Bringing More to Life. Most adults believe they’ll be able to care for themselves for the rest of their lives. As parents age, ask them to honestly answer how they plan to care for themselves. Help them to be realistic. Sometimes things have to get worse before they get better (a missed payment or a slip and fall.) If you have planned together, deciding to move becomes a simpler process. Start the conversation now to bring more to their lives.
This is Brian Erickson in Bringing More to Life. Patients have the right to make informed choices about their healthcare. This means that you should be offered the opportunity to compare and make choices that suit your needs. Choice includes the right to select the services you use from hospitals, clinics, doctors, physical and occupation and speech therapists, rehab centers, independent and assisted living centers, home health and hospice agencies, and pharmacies. Information is available to explain your options. If you are a parent or are not offered a choice, it should be explained why. Ask questions. Start the conversation now to bring more to their lives.
Deciding to Move
This Randy Watts, Bringing More to Life. Advanced directives. Planning for medical decisions isn’t easy. But it is the responsible compassionate thing to do. Ask two questions. In the event you become too sick to speak for yourself, who would you like to speak for you? The second, have you spoken to that person about the things that are important to you? Know your parents’ values. Start the conversation now to bring more to their lives.
This Brian Erickson in Bringing More to Life. Talk to your parents about their driving abilities. Anxiety producing? Absolutely. Ask yourself five questions.
- Can they find their way home on a familiar road?
- Have they driven without fender benders, tickets, or scrapes on their car?
- When you ride with them, do they react appropriately?
- Are there medical issues that impact strength or cognition?
- Would you allow young children to ride with them?
Be prepared with driving alternatives. Start the conversation now to bring more to their lives.
Holidays can be an emotional time for those facing changing health or abilities. To prepare for and enjoy the holidays with your parents consider the following: Find a shopper for the gifts they wish to give family members or help with gift wrapping. Decorate their home with meaningful decorations. Make it cheerful for all who live there or visit. Have everyone you know send your parent a holiday card. While it can be difficult to replicate past holidays your efforts will help maintain a positive mindset. Stop, breathe and feel the joy with them. Help bring more to their lives in ways you never knew.
Team of Support
Acknowledging a loved one is no longer safe at home is an emotional decision. It affects you, the person in need of care, family members and friends. More than any other event during the caregiving years, a family meeting has the potential to bring loved ones together as a strongly bonded team; during caregiving and afterward. Create an agenda to discuss your parent’s safety. Consider all the options, review choices and plan the best course of action. Communicate that all opinions are welcomed and needed. You won’t be able to settle everything in one meeting but you’ll get a good start toward a common vision of caregiving needs. A team of support can bring more to their lives in ways you never knew.
What concerns you the most about aging? More people worry about dementia than heart disease, cancer or other conditions. We will experience memory changes; the forgotten appointment, or name or just the right word. That is normal aging. But difficulty completing familiar tasks, confusion with a place and memory loss that disrupts daily life, are not. Bring up memory concerns at your parent’s next healthcare appointment. Share if you see disorientation, forgetting recently learned information, or a sudden inability to complete familiar tasks. While it’s tempting to deny memory impairment, early diagnosis of conditions such as Alzheimer’s allows treatment to begin right away. Share with their doctor to bring more to their lives in ways you never knew.