November 29th, 2010 at 3:14 am
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Understanding My Aging Parents: What About Me?

by Kathryn Kilpatrick, M.A. CCC/SLP

Spending an extended period of time with loved ones, particularly older family members, can be quite an eye-opener. If some things are different, does it mean we should be looking more closely at the bigger picture? A lot of thoughts may be swirling through our minds or we may choose to put them aside for awhile or perhaps wait until our next visit.

Each person approaches the changes of someone close to them, whether it is a family member or a dear friend, in different ways. Perhaps the older adult was tired or was having a bad day. Another person may assume that what is going on is part of normal aging. Another family member may have had a detached or difficult relationship with the older adult, isn’t seeing anything very different or currently prefers not to look at the situation more closely. Sometimes a younger family member may struggle to be around someone where there is obviously a significant decline in functioning, physically or cognitively.

Those with some experience in health care may realize that what they are seeing is part of a new phase in the life of all concerned. Sometimes we may not be ready to fully understand or acknowledge the changes. Starting a journey down that road will mean different things for all involved. That in itself can be a personal challenge. It is not an easy place to be, but for those of us that are blessed to still have our parents around, those possibilities and opportunities exist.

Interestingly, many families have shared the fact that once they realized there was a significant problem, particularly Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia, they recalled observations often made years before that now made more sense. My advice to caregivers and loved ones is just to observe, spend at least four or five days living with the older adult in their routine. Pay attention to what they are doing and really listen. When I first started noticing some very subtle changes with my mom almost a decade ago, I began a journey that was not an easy one but very meaningful to me emotionally and spiritually.

One daughter told me she felt it was time for her to work through some difficult issues with her parents and actually spoke to a therapist to learn what she needed to do. She wanted to be a good role model for her children on how she might like to be treated if similar problems occurred with her decades later. She attended support groups and sought out resources to help her understand the best approaches. She did not want to walk away from the obvious and she also did not think becoming a parent to her parents was the best approach either. The result was a decade of growing and healing through the process of supporting her aging parents.

If you are noticing changes and want to begin this journey, take some time to process how you want to handle this experience. Consider what your next step might be. Do you need to get more information about what you are seeing? Do you need to start a conversation with other family members? Do you need to have some tools to begin those conversations with an older adult? Refer to the article Start A Family Conversation About Elder Care And Senior Living.

It is important to remember that not everyone in your family will necessarily be on the same page. If you stay true to your values, you will be given the tools you need along the way to help with a loved one’s safety and quality of life. For additional information refer to Aging Parents: Do These Changes Mean Something? Part 1 and Part 2.

“In every difficult situation is potential value. Believe this, then begin looking for it.” Norman Vincent Peale

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