Recognize when the elderly need help

Published 5:24 pm Saturday, March 8, 2014

QUESTION: My children are becoming more independent and needing me less and my parents are becoming more dependent and needing me more and more. I am treating my children more like adults; I don’t want to treat my parents like children. Do you have any helpful insights?

ANSWER:  There is a lot said about parents as role models. It is true; parents teach first. I have clear memories of my parents relating to my grandparents, giving them more and more attention and care as they grew older, which covered a lot of years, since my grandmothers lived to be 86 and 98, and my step-grandfather lived to be 99.

My parents honored my grandparents as they became less independent by being verbally respectful to them and about them. I knew that part of our family income went into making sure their needs were met.

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I listened to my mother, especially, talk with them about the details of their lives, showing genuine interest, and I listened throughout my teen years as she shared the details of my grandparents’ childhood, their adolescence, their marriages, their parenting and their careers.

When my parents were challenged with the progressive weakening of their own bodies from rheumatoid arthritis and congestive heart failure, it became my brother’s and my turn to give them more attention and care. I was grateful they had taught their children well. We knew to talk about the past and ask for lots of details, including a request that my mom journal her life history for us, which she graciously did, as a gift for her grandchildren.

Long life includes coping with the limitations of aging as another stage of development. If we are helpful, supportive adult children, we will work at accepting our parents’ need for help without treating them as children, either in action or in tone of voice. For example, we can ask to help with a particular task, such as shopping or cooking, to lessen the impression that we are trying to take over. Respect shown among family members, for any reason, strengthens the whole family.

I appreciate the attitude of a friend who works as a nurse in a residence for the elderly.  She has shared her response to men and women who are saddened at becoming a burden because they need so much care.

“Oh, no, you mustn’t think that way,” my friend tells them. “We younger people need to have the experience of helping you. You are very important. It is one way we learn to be compassionate.”