Proactive is not just an acne scrub. It’s vital to your aging loved one. The world keeps families swamped with activity. Between summer sporting activities, friends, camps, and work, rest for the weary seems hopeless. It’s hard enough to keep up with the kids and their activities, much less manage an aging parent but here in lies the problem.
Loneliness and depression can, and will, slip in like a thief in the night. It’s easy to assume aging parents are doing well, especially when they are still able to drive and maintain their daily activities. The best rule of thumb is simply to never assume anything.
Joe and Mary were married 50 years. Joe suddenly passed away. Mary, always active and somewhat the decision maker, seems to work through the loss like a champion. Her children were amazed how she handled the loss of their dad. Mary mourned for a short time, but then it was life as usual. Her children saw her weekly, spoke with her on the phone constantly but suddenly Mary became ill. After a brief stay in the hospital her children thought she was fine. Instead, Mary had a slow, continual weight loss. She grew quieter at family gatherings, but not so much that the children thought it odd. Little changes occurred slowly over time – almost unnoticeable. One day, Mary’s daughter opened the refrigerator to pop in a casserole. She was stunned. Vegetables were black, milk curdled, foods were moldy. Reality set in and though Mary seemed to be fine, the children realized she was depressed.
It’s not uncommon for very active aging parents to grow depressed. One must remember the era in which they were raised – a time when emotions were shoveled over the shoulder and “the just get it done” attitude kicked in. Depression was not recognized when our 80+ parents were youthful. The world was a different place, where people moved ahead despite the hardships. Many doctors referred to this as “survival mode.” Parents moved ahead simply because they had no option.
Despite having a good family, Mary’s kids did not see the importance of being proactive. They didn’t see the changes because they were slow and subtle. The children were horrified this happened to their mom. They thought their visits and calls were sufficient. After all, it wasn’t like they’d abandoned their mother. She was an active part of their lives.
Being proactive is not only being present physically with parents, but it is truly walking a fine line between no attention and over reacting. So how do family members become proactive? Follow these steps to help assure your aging parent is on track.
*Have those heart-to-heart talks – Take time to reminiscence those happy times past. Gently dig a little deeper into the heart of the surviving parent. Reassure them emotion is acceptable, even show your own emotion. Sometimes a good cry is exactly what is needed to pass through grief in a healthy manner.
*Accompany loved ones to doctor appointments -Keep in mind, as they grow older, loved ones do not always pay close attention to physician instructions. Keep a notebook of dates, times, and reasons for doctor appointments. List instructions and verify the need for all medications.
*Keep an eye on the refrigerator -If foods are spoiling, it’s a clear sign your loved one is not eating. Carve time to prepare a meal for your parent in their own home. This will allow the opportunity to observe the refrigerator contents, pantry, and see exactly how much food parents are consuming.
*When conversation begins to wain from chatty to quiet, it’s time to get to the source of the silence. Depression comes in many forms. It’s not always sadness.
Learning to be proactive takes practice. It’s taking the step of due diligence to step into what has always seemed private to your loved one. Remember, their spouse is no longer there to take this role. Sometimes it feels awkward, but gently is the working word. Be proactive in your aging parent’s life even when they seem well. You’ll become keenly aware of changes and begin to ward off bad things before they happen.