As we age, our physical and mental capabilities are frequently not what they once were. It’s sometimes a major challenge, especially initially, to face up to the limitations that appear to accompany getting older. Accepting as fact that we’re no longer able to drive, do certain household chores such as making the bed, or balance our bank accounts is rarely easy.
On the other hand, it may also be difficult to know when it’s worthwhile — and a really good idea — to “fight” the tendency to give in to our apparent limitations and “keep on trying.” Often we discover these apparent limitations are things we can “live with,” learn from and manage better. Sometimes they’re not really our limitations at all!
When we feel limited or like we’re “losing it,” and when our children lose patience with us for being slow, or repeating our questions or they raise their voices and sound angry simply because we’re hard of hearing, it’s easy to begin to feel ashamed.
Unfortunately, feeling ashamed has two negative effects. It further supports being in denial about what we no longer can do well. And it makes it all the more difficult to try to “press through” when some task becomes challenging.
How do we know — both for ourselves and for our aging parents — when to accept what we can no longer do (“fold ‘em,” as they say in poker) and when to “press through” what’s hard? Here are some good tips to guide you through making these important but challenging distinctions:
- Observe “aging behaviors” carefully and share valid opinions (from others they respect, whenever possible) before announcing: “You/I can’t do X anymore.” But be brave in speaking up, especially if you see safety risks.
When explaining why your elderly parents’ (or your own) limitations outweigh the advantages of “trying to do something,” back up what you’re saying with facts, as you see them, and with opinions of others worthy of respect. It’s easier to accept the kindly delivered words: “Your doctor says you shouldn’t drive anymore at night because your night vision isn’t very good because of your cataracts” than the pronouncement, sometimes after an unfortunate incident: “You can’t drive anymore.” As a good POParent, you’ll choose to impress your parents with the risks of their impaired driving rather than “allow” them to drive simply to avoid an argument.
- Be patient but notice if you have to keep repeating yourself and inform a physician about that behavior.
You may have to repeat yourself over and over, as you remind your senior parents why you’ve taken over paying their bills or are driving them to the market. Do your best to not allow their forgetfulness or slower ways to frustrate you. Be kind and remember to stay calm: you’ll all feel better when you speak loudly enough to be audible as well as kindly. However, if you’re observing repeated forgetfulness, it’s also wise to accompany your parents’ to their next doctor’s appointments, report your observations to their physician and discover from a qualified medical personnel if your loved ones’ forgetfulness is related to dementia or some health risk that needs more attention.
- Affirm the strengths and unique contributions of those who are aging as well as their limitations.
All of us like to feel good about ourselves and aging doesn’t change that! It helps to remind yourself, as well as your loved ones, to focus on what we’re still capable of doing well and of our specialness to our friends and family. By pointing out the upsides of aging – you can read more about that here and online — as well as aiming to undermine your loved ones’ sense of shame, you can find yourself genuinely combining a compliment with a sympathetic understanding of limitations. For example, a loving POParent might say while helping a senior with her dressing: “I know it’s hard for you to need help with dressing, but you still have great taste in picking out good-looking outfits. You’ve sure not lost your eye for being well dressed.” Appreciating what CAN be done and is special about a person can minimize the shame many elders associate with the limitations of aging.
- Often by “just” being there for our aging family members and listening to their concerns, they will acknowledge their own fears and limits.
By offering an interested ear to your loved ones’ thoughts and feelings, providing supportive ideas and giving them love, all of us can better enjoy living during this remarkable time of life.
How have you helped your aging parents – or yourself dealt with distinguishing real limits from apparent ones? Please do share your important responses with the rest of the community by leaving your comments below.