Facing Reality

Facing the reality of aging can be difficult for everyone involved, seniors and their families. It helps to be aware of the senior's point of view, the warning signs of declining health and some strategies to overcome resistance.

Maybe It's Time - A Senior's Perspective

Time becomes a major issue as we age.  Too much time to fill. Too little time left.
It is a time of irreversible losses:
  • Physical strength, beauty, mobility
  • Health – mental and/or physical
  • Friends and loved ones
  • Identity
  • Home
  • Independence
  • Usefulness
It is understandable that these losses may cause fear, anger or depression.
 It is also:
  • A time to hold on
  • A time to let go
  • A time to feel significant
It's time for us to listen.
We've all heard older family members and friends repeat the same stories over and over. Perhaps they need us to hear what has made their lives significant.

“Everyone needs memories. They keep the wolf of insignificance from the door.”
Saul Bellow

Warning Signs

Any change in lifelong habits can be a sign of declining health. Many seniors are very cagey when it comes to covering up declining health. 
  • Watch for changes in appearance.  Has there been a change in their personal grooming? Have they  gained or lost a significant amount of weight? Are they wearing the same clothing day after day? Do they have unexplained bruises from bumps or falls?
  • Watch for changes in the home. Is the refrigerator clean and properly stocked? Are drawers and the oven messier than usual? Are there scorched pots and pans?
  • Watch for changes in mental sharpness. Do they have trouble remembering appointments? Do common tasks like remembering their keys and wallet or dealing with the daily mail seem to be causing anxiety? Have they lost interest in going out or socializing? Have they started making spelling mistakes or having trouble reading the paper?
  • Watch for changes in physical wellbeing. Has their vision or hearing declined? Is there a sharp increase or decrease in their visits to the doctor?
Note: Diagnosing infections in the elderly can be difficult. Seniors are less likely to have classic symptoms such as fever, chills, and vomiting. Instead they might have atypical symptoms such as subnormal temperature, confusion, fatigue, and decreased appetite. In many cases, these subtle signs can be attributed to the normal aging process — or ignored until the late stages of the infection.

I recommend the Mayo Clinic site as a great resource for Health Information.
Also see the Links/Resources page for contacts to Manitoba chronic illness organizations.

Resistance - Denial is not a Solution

It is natural for anyone to be resistant to change especially when that change involves leaving the family home or acknowledging a loss of independence. Hopefully families have had conversations about “what happens if...” long before a crisis hits. It is much easier to plan for the future at 70 than at 80.
Most caregivers have to deal with some level of resistance.  Some caregivers must deal with very difficult situations.
Strategies for dealing with difficult parents and/or conversations
  • Stay calm
  • Go slow – don’t expect to reach solutions in one sitting
  • Be persistent
  • Be consistent
  • Acknowledge feelings
  • Be sympathetic
  • Know your limitations. Don’t agree to more than you can handle.
  • Pick your battles
  • Say no. (Keep it simple. Don’t start explaining. Explanations often fuel the conflict)
  • Call for back-up. Bring in someone your parent listens to.
Don’t always jump to the pump. Coping with some inconvenience helps people acknowledge that they need help.  Great Article: When a Loved One Resists Help for Their Hearing Loss

You cannot change others but you can change how you interact with them. Here are some phrases that reduce conflict.
  • I’m sorry you feel that way.
  • I can understand why you might see things that way
  • I know it’s disappointing for you.
  • Give it some thought. You’ve always been good at finding solutions.
  • Let’s talk about something else.
  • I’m sorry you’re having a bad day. I’ll come back another time.
  • You might be right. I’ll have to think about that.
  • This must be really difficult for you.
  • What do you need? How can I help?
  • We see things differently.
Don’t rush your goodbye. Always plan to spend the last 10 minutes of a visit to say goodbye. Highlight the best of the visit. Talk about when you will be back. Hugs are important. You will both feel better if you aren’t bolting out the door.

Further Reading: Both of these titles are available through the Winnipeg Public Library
  • Coping with Your Difficult Older Parent: A Guide for Stressed Out Children.
  • Emotional Blackmail: When the People in Your Life Use Fear, Obligation, and Guilt to Manipulate You

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