The signs may appear troubling. Your aging Mom or Dad is starting to seem withdrawn, emotionally or physically. They don’t return your calls. They aren’t taking care of their home, or themselves. Something seems to be changing, but what should you do? Earlier this year we discovered this article on the website Next Avenue that describes what may be the single most important thing you can do for your aging parent: you need to get them involved with a variety of engaging and stimulating activities. Helping Mom or Dad re-engage in life activities, especially after the loss of a loved one or other major life change, can be vital to their health.
The Next Avenue article describes some of the warning signs you may be seeing in your aging parent. “The most telling changes: they have experienced a recent loss, especially of a loved one; they seem physically or emotionally withdrawn; they aren’t returning calls; they appear dazed, confused and/or forgetful; they aren’t taking care of things (themselves, the house, a pet) they once took pride in; they have lost interest in activities they once looked forward to, such as visits from the grandkids, gardening, Saturday brunch with friends, going to church.” If these red flags apply to your loved one, it’s probably time to step in, no matter what your parent might say. As one expert on aging put it, MoreFree Printable Coloring Pages
“You don’t get information about what’s going on just by asking them, you get it by using your eyes and listening for what’s not being said.”
Once you perceive some of these warning signs, you should act quickly to get more information. This often calls for a geriatric assessment of your loved one’s physical, mental and emotional condition, something a geriatric physician can assist you with. We often remind our radio listeners and seminar attendees of the vital importance of getting someone on your medical team who understands and can assess the unique needs of senior adults. If you don’t have a geriatrician as quarterback of your medical team, contact us at AgingOptions and let us refer you to a board-certified geriatric specialist in your area.
The important take-away from the Next Avenue article is that you as the adult child or caregiver play a critical role. Your parent probably needs your help to get back into the swing of things. If you don’t act, this pattern of isolation, depression and neglect will likely get worse, with far-reaching medical consequences. On the other hand, getting a parent socially re-engaged “can help maintain their emotional well-being as they become less physically and/or cognitively able.” Even if your loved one is uncooperative and the conversation becomes contentious, it’s worth it.
Once you’ve decided it’s time to intervene, you can start with a simple first step: ask Mom or Dad what they miss and what kinds of things they would like to be involved in. Then help them find the opportunities to plug in. The article suggests you start with programs at your local senior center – or, if your parent suffers from some cognitive impairment, an adult day center.
Another excellent way to get your parent back into the swing of things is to encourage them to volunteer. Volunteering helps your Mom or Dad get outside their own issues and help others while making a difference in their community, taking pride in their accomplishments once again and learning new skills. The connection to others, even in their advanced years, can lead to a sense of renewal, even transformation as they put familiar skills to work once again.
According to a recent study conducted at Georgia State University, seniors who volunteer in their communities stay healthier. They are less likely to become physically disabled from chronic illnesses. This is especially true for seniors who volunteered or worked at least 100 hours a year: these men and women maintained significantly better health and mobility as they aged than their less active counterparts. All the things that come with volunteering or working – physical activity, mental activity, socializing, problem-solving, a sense of purpose – are like tonic to a senior adult, just as they are to all of us.
One final point the article emphasizes: if you can’t do all this yourself, because of your work schedule or other priorities, it’s okay to delegate. A sibling, a relative, or a friend might be the one to come alongside your Mom or Dad if you can’t do it alone. And it’s fine to hire a caregiver if you need to. The important thing is to get your aging parent out and about once again. Doing so could both prolong and enrich their remaining years.
What about your retirement years? If you’re ready to start making a retirement plan – we call it a LifePlan – we’re ready to assist you. A fully thought-out LifePlan will help you answer essential questions for your retirement, questions concerning your financial security, your legal protection, your housing choices, your medical coverage, and your family relationships. If that sounds unusually comprehensive, it is! Best of all, developing a LifePlan doesn’t have to be difficult. Start by attending one of our free LifePlanning Seminars. You’ll come away with valuable information to get your planning well underway. Click here for dates, times, locations and online registration, or contact us for assistance during the week. Then come to a LifePlanning Seminar – we’ll look forward to meeting you!
(originally reported at www.nextavenue.org)