Watch for Evidence of Parental Aging

A very dear friend said to me recently, “Isn’t it humbling that we are living as the “sandwich generation”? We had been discussing how busy life gets while tending to work, our own children, and increasingly – taking care of our aging parents. We are the generation now sandwiched between the young and the old. Not only are we taking care of our children, but also providing support for our elderly parents. Many of us are being pulled in two different directions – and we can’t be everywhere at once!

Many of us with aging parents are “sandwiched.” We are challenged, and perhaps expected, with providing time, care, and attention to our elderly parents. And this may be exacerbated by distances – parents may be living out of state. How do we help? Is there one sibling who is taking the responsibility for parental care? Or has the family divided such duties? Are one or both parents still capable and comfortable living at home? And are they able to take care of themselves, or do they need home assistance?

Helping your parents as an advocate can be a daunting, intimidating task. But there are ways to remain positive, engaged and proactive in dealing with aging parents and their needs. Understanding the process of aging – and the uniqueness of our parents – will help you to be more attentive and involved with your parents as they age.

Elder Changes Come On Rapidly

Vigilant adult children can be struck with the suddenness of change in parental behavior and functioning. This may be all the more apparent when you live a great distance from parents, and your visits are limited to 1 – 4 times per year. Sometimes, a sudden change may be directly related to a recent problem. A fall may result in a broken arm, but the real cause may be related to mobility functions, imbalance, dizziness, or physical issues. Your aging mother may be completely alert and lucid on phone calls, but is beginning to show signs of confusion and memory loss the following week. Elders may be experiencing an acute problem. Have medications been added or changed recently? Is there an undetected infection which is weakening the body AND effecting attitude while changing habits? Could there be a mini-stroke or heart attack causing disorientation or the accompanying aches and pains?

Be mindful and observant to your parent’s baseline health and behavior. You will need to be alert to sudden, as well as subtle, signs, changes, and/or fluctuations in both temperament and physical behavior. Are they eating properly and still losing weight? Is there a vitamin deficiency which might be very simple to adjust? Keep his/her physician informed of changes. This will help ensure a proper diagnosis and timely treatment – which may be especially important for sudden changes in condition.

Seniors Can Understand Their Ailments

The elderly have a greater understanding of their limitations than we may give them credit for. Listen for hints. Are they expressing hesitancy in completing household tasks, or in driving? They may articulate a very real worry, or an understanding of their capabilities on certain tasks that we may sometimes dismiss. For instance, elders can express worry associated with the risks of falling. Certainly, in cold weather this may be due to snow and ice. But may also be due to the feeling of dizziness, loss of blood flow to the brain, and/or loss of balance when standing and walking. This is a very real fear. Simply walking from the front door to the car can be hazardous, and the cause of great anxiety. I have an elderly female client whose legs simply collapsed as she walked, and the fall resulted in her breaking both her nose and elbow. Such seemingly simple tasks are not so easy for many seniors. We need to listen for hints of apprehension in the elderly.