MILESTONES OF AGING
What to watch for Complaints that times is burdensome or life meaningless; marital discord. What to do Help them find new activities. Locate special programmes for seniors in the community as well as alternative living arrangements. If your parents seem depressed, urge them to seek professional help. Talk about ground rules. Your parents’ retirement is a good time for an honest discussion about how your relationship is going to change in the future. You need to say to your parents, ‘As time goes on, you may need help, and it’s better if we can agree on this now.’ This kind of help will be difficult for parents to accept later on unless you’ve laid out some honest ground rules ahead of time. will, they need to. Other documents that should be drawn up: a durable power of attorney (establishing a family member or friend as the spokesperson for the parent), medical directives that place specific limitations on aggressive life-prolonging therapy and a health care proxy. Have your parents keep important papers in a place to which one adult has access. Work on building trust. Unresolved issues – especially concerning money – must be addressed while your parents are still lucid and in good health. Say to your parents: ‘If I am going to help you in old age, you have to trust me with your money. If you can’t do that, I won’t be able to help you as I should. If your parents resist, consider talking to a family therapist.
What to watch for Repeated falls What to do Help make the house safer. Remove throw rugs and extension cords and install grab bars in the bathroom. If a step down from the kitchen into the living room is what’s tripping them up, put in a railing. Go shoe shopping. Older people prone to falling should wear athletic shoes designed for walking. Make sure they fit well and have a low heel that doesn’t extend beyond the body of the shoe (this type of heel can cause tripping). Avoid shoes with soles that are very thick or extend over the toe; they may stick to carpets and cause falls. Encourage your parents to get rid of shoes with smooth leather soles or high heels and loose-fitting footwear. What to watch for Your parent seems confused or overwhelmed by taking on the tasks needed to handle an illness; no single doctor seems committed to your parent. What to do Meet with your parent’s doctor. A committed GP who knows how to communicate with your family is vital. If you don’t get the sense that the doctor is really involved, it might be time to switch, to say a geriatrician. These doctors have special training in the needs of the elderly and can often pick up problems that general physicians miss. Assess how much you need to take charge of the situation. For an older person, a serious illness is a logistical nightmare. Somebody needs to manage things like getting medications and keeping track of them, filing claims and arranging medical visits. Read up on your parent’s illness and its treatment. Get your parent’s consent to keep a file of medical documents. Talk with your siblings. The illness of a parent is often a great opportunity for siblings to start fighting – or to come together. Family members who don’t live nearby should be included via conference call. Discuss death openly. As painful as it is, it’s time to start talking with your parents about the conditions under which they hope to die. Ask them: ‘When it’s time, how do you feel about dying in the hospital, versus at home? How aggressive do you want your treatment to be?’ You should broach this subject while your parents are still in reasonably good shape.
What to watch for Withdrawal, isolation, loneliness What to do Share your grief. Instead of turning your grief inward, try to be present for your surviving parent, so that coping with the loss isn’t an isolating experience for either of you. Work out a support system by way of intimate friends or family members nearby. Offer help with practical matters. Make sure your parent has a comfortable handle on his or her financial matters and living arrangements. What to watch for Decline in personal hygiene or house-keeping; getting lost; personality changes What to do Investigate whether your parent is suffering from depression.