People live much longer lives now, which means that more people are experiencing the joys and challenges of seeing their parents reach old age. Aging is a gift in many ways, but it also brings a range of physical and emotional issues that can be difficult to navigate. Gradually our parents change from people we used to rely on for care and protection to people who now need us to do the same for them. This role reversal can be an intimidating one, but with a positive attitude and proactive approach, you can ensure your parents receive the best care.
This guide addresses how you can help your elderly parent to live a full and healthy life physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Look out for changes in their behavior and health
To ensure that you are alert to sudden changes in your parent’s health and wellbeing, you need to familiarize yourself with what is ‘normal’ for them. When an elderly parent is able to walk confidently one week but is regularly losing their balance the next week, you need to seek medical advice. If your usually alert and sharp parent starts to lose their train of thought mid-sentence or becomes confused, you should make an appointment with their doctor. When symptoms appear quickly, it can mean that something significant like a stroke has taken place, and early diagnosis and treatment is crucial. Click here for more on the signs of a minor stroke.
Do not jump to conclusions
When an elderly person begins to display symptoms of illness, we have a tendency to assume that they are being caused by something age-related. We could then conclude that there is little that can be done to help them or that they are showing signs of a serious illness. However, there are usually several possible causes behind symptoms, many of which are not life-threatening or serious. For example, vitamin deficiency, underactive thyroid, and depression, can all cause a person’s health to deteriorate gradually, but all can be treated. If you notice changes in your parent’s behavior or health, make detailed notes that you can take to the doctor so they can investigate all possible avenues.
Get to know their medication
It is well worth becoming familiar with any medications that your parent needs to take, including how often and in what dosage. Even if your parent does not need help with their medication at the moment, in a medical emergency, you need to be able to tell doctors what they have taken.
If you are attending medical appointments with your parent, ask the doctor to explain any possible side effects they may encounter and keep them informed of any over-the-counter products your parent is using. Doctors will also need to be informed if your parent drinks alcohol, smokes, or drinks a lot of caffeinated drinks as some medications can react badly with these substances.
Consider their emotions and mental health
It is true that elderly people tend to develop more medical conditions and physical problems as time goes on, and while these issues require attention and treatment, they should not overshadow a person’s emotional wellbeing. Physical and mental health are intertwined and often affect each other. When we feel depressed, anxious, or stressed, we can develop physical symptoms, and when we struggle with physical illness, we can also develop mental health issues as a result. Therefore, treating one without treating the other is illogical.
For example, if an elderly person finds it difficult to leave the house without help, is hard of hearing, loses their sight, or is incontinent, they may not want to leave the house. This might appear to be a decision they have made because they do not want to go out, but it could also be a decision they have made to avoid embarrassment or feeling like an imposition. Over time they may end up feeling isolated, demotivated, depressed, and withdrawn.
The point to remember is that while it is important to address physical illnesses and symptoms, an elderly person’s mental health and emotional wellbeing is just as important.
Encourage them to live life to the fullest
When you look at your elderly parent, it might be easy to forget that in their minds, they are very much the same person they were when they were in their twenties. Just because their body has changed physically does not mean that they do not want to spend time with friends, to have meaningful relationships, to enjoy new experiences, and maintain their independence. Of course, medical professionals are the best people to help them maintain or improve their mobility, but there are plenty of ways you can enable them to continue to lead a full life.
If they are living alone, make a regular date with them to go round and have a coffee or a meal. Take them out to see shows and visit new places. Let them know about clubs or social groups in the area that they could become involved with. Provide transport to enable them to get around.
If they need medical care but still want to retain their independence and freedom, a retirement village where medical and support staff are on standby could be ideal. Visit https://www.belmontvillage.com/ for more information on their assisted and independent living villages.
Be wary of your own ageism
Most of us are familiar with the concept of sexism and racism and can recognize it when we come across it, but we are not so well educated when it comes to ageism. Ageism, as you might expect, is prejudice against elderly people, e.g., presuming that a person only thinks, feels, or acts a certain way because of their age. Ageist attitudes tend to dismiss an elderly person’s concerns or problems as just a normal part of getting older, which they should learn to deal with.
Being ageist towards a person can seriously impact their self-esteem, invalidates their emotions or opinions, and can deter them from speaking up about physical symptoms. People can become depressed, anxious, or anti-social at any age for numerous reasons, and physical problems should not be explained away as an inevitable part of getting older.
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