Take Charge of Your Health - When Mom & Dad are Aging - Part 2
Old age may have its limitations and challenges, but in spite of them
our latter years can be some of the most rewarding and fulfilling of our lives.
In Part 1 of our blog When Mom and Dad are Aging, we reviewed the importance of planning ahead to address our parent’s needs and preferences. This is not the time when children should be "seen and not heard," instead, it is the time to “SPEAK UP.” Consider these insights into what types of things to look for, and talk about, with the important elders in your life.
S - We are all social beings, yet it is quite common to become more isolated as we age. Social connections can influence our biology and well being, so it is important to help our parents stay engaged and socially active. Research tells us spending time with family and friends is linked to a longer, more fulfilling life, whereas loneliness and isolation can lead to depression and shorten our life span. Building new pathways for social interaction to replace those that are lost are key. Little things like sharing stories, going through photo albums, or visits from young people can go a long way in helping our elders feel connected.
P - Physical activity and encouraging our parents to keep moving helps maintain muscle mass. As we age our bodies change and though limitations may become substantial we still require being energized. Whether it is doing exercises while sitting in a chair, taking short walks several times a day, or participating in fitness classes offered in the community, continuing to move is essential.
E - While we all have emotional needs, our parents need to feel safe and feel that their lives are meaningful. The aging process and/or illness can lead to feelings of depression, confusion or anxiety. Simple things such as paying attention to what is important to them and reminding them of their life accomplishments can boost their self worth and in turn their emotional health and happiness.
A - Keep an eye on your loved ones' appetite, diet and nutrition all of which are important to maintain health and stamina. (Malnutrition is one of the major reasons seniors suffer health problems.) Smaller, more frequent, nutritious meals with healthy fats, whole grains, fiber, calcium and plenty of water can help protect elder health. It is also wise to check labels and expiration dates to ensure foods have not spoiled. Weight loss, empty refrigerators or old, expired food are all signs of functioning at a reduced capacity.
K - Exposing your loved one to new experiences and helping them gain new knowledgecan stimulate them, increase their social participation, help them feel productive and even fight off cognitive decline. Encouraging as parent or elder to conquer their fear or insecurity about learning something new can be helpful and appreciated.
U - Create understanding by offering an empathetic ear. Remember, we don’t always need to find solutions for their challenges. There is much to be gained by your parent simply expressing their concerns, issues and wishes to someone who is actively listening and engaged. Our elders want, and deserve, to be understood.
P - Help your loved ones find peace, inner healing and comfort. Consider the notion of Teilhard de Chardin that we are not human beings having a spiritual experience, we are spiritual beings having a human one. Events in their lives and close relationships can attune our parents to vital forces within them, nurture their sense of wholeness and spiritual wellness and bring meaning and depth to their living. Developing a closer relationship with the Divine, with Nature or another personal belief system is often an important part of finding peace in the inevitable aging experience.
It all starts with a conversation. We need to SPEAK UP and encourage our parents to SPEAK UP as well, so their wishes are known and can be followed. It is important to discuss your parent’s current and future health care needs and how you can best support them in a straightforward and honest way. By setting realistic goals and putting a plan in place based on their specific priorities and circumstances, we show our parents respect, improve their quality of life and can reduce stress in their lives as well as our own.
For information on specific family conversations that may be helpful to you, visit the Health-E3 website.