After your parents have spent a lifetime taking care of you, taking care of an elderly parent can be a challenge. The staff at Harbor’s Edge has the expertise and resources to guide you and your parent through this transition.
Not only is our staff trained in helping seniors make the physical move from their home to a new community, but we also understand the emotional aspect of dealing with a parent’s concerns and questions.
Author David Solie offers adult children insight and advice on working with the “Aging Parent” and how the senior adult processes information when making a decision to move into a retirement community. His insight to psychology of aging brings compassion and clarity to the misunderstood agenda of older adults. Here are some practical tips, from The Secret Mission of Aging Parents Series, to help you better partner with parents with predictable dilemmas with aging.
Many feel unprepared for the experience, but it’s not due to lack of good intentions. Parents have saved for retirement not to be a burden to family. One of a series of emotionally draining topics occurring between baby boomers and their aging parents are about:
Where are parents going to live?
- What to do about their money?
- What happens when one of them passes away?
- What happens when they can’t take care of themselves?
- What is the right “goodbye”?
- Why We Lost the Connection?
Reconsider the impact of the baby boomer generation on society. We are the first generation in America to arrive at middle age having not lived in a communal society. Society is vastly differing from our parents and grandparents. They lived in a close knit network, family oriented, and rich in support. They stayed in one place, easy to reach and communicate with one another, where aging adults were an integral part of society. With the arrival of the baby boomer generation, things changed. We became a dispersed generation, moving and no longer living close by. Not living with and knowing older adults first hand. We mainly communicate using mostly second hand information with aging parents. We need new information about parents and their psychological agenda. Knowing the real story will help us better partner with our aging parents:
- Find out what has engaged parents attention – how they think , behaviors, make decisions
- What they are trying to signal with their behavior and meaning
- How do we signal back that we “get it”
Real Story of Aging
Older adults have not stopped growing. They are in the middle of most demanding and complex stage of their life. Most of us are disillusioned; believing older adults’ mind is failing like the body, and function with diminished capacity. Latest research shows that the cortex, part of our brain that contains the higher centers, is being reconfigured. The frontal cortex, heart of our multitasking skills, becomes less effective. Older adults cannot manage as many balls in the air as before. New information takes longer to stick, however other parts of the cortex are being lit up to provide a new capacity to analyze, compare and integrate experiences and information. In addition, IQ, verbal expression, language and abstract thinking remain intact. In short, the brain gives up some of its multitasking powers while it creates a new capacity for wisdom. This is not by accident or without profound benefit to aging parents.
Psychological development is lifelong. Aging parents may look and act older, but are in the midst of a veritable storm of growth that has captured their total attention. They’re managing two paradoxical developmental tasks. They are being pulled into two different directions and in their final mission in life. Understanding these tasks will change how you see and respond to your aging parents.
Task 1: The Battle for Control
Maintain control in a world where all control is being lost. Control for baby boomers is a given. We expect it and are good at using it. Our aging parents find themselves in a different world with chronic losses and a daily battle of holding onto what they have left. Understanding the magnitude of what it takes to manage this task will increase our empathy of how hard it is to do. Until we address the control issue of our aging parents, we generally will not get very far in our partnership with them.
- Loss of Health – encroaching limitations imposed by sickness in all areas of their lives. With declining health comes with loss of control to move and act with the freedom of younger years.
- Painful loss of friends and family members who have been part of their lives for decades; their social fabric slowly thinning with advancing years. There’s a sobering loss of authority in the modern family that doesn’t look to its elders for advice or guidance. There’s a loss in power and status that accompanies retirement in a society which emphasizes you are what you do.
- Agonizing loss of familiar surroundings when home becomes unsafe or too much to handle and have to surrender the last place that is truly under their control.
- Lastly, there is a loss of financial control
How can baby boomers help their aging parents maintain control while avoiding communication breakdowns? Choose your words carefully and choosing those with the most signaling power. For control issues, action verbs provide the most effective signal to aging parents that they are in the driver seat when it comes to running their lives.
Task 2: Discovery a Legacy
Most of us assume that our aging parents have discovered their legacy as they have gotten older. The unfinished reality of aging is reflected in a specific question that comes up during interviews with older adults. “How’d I get to be 80?” “Where did the time go?”
We arrive at old age with a mature perspective and a long list of critical questions about what it all means. We also arrive less fixated on material things and more focused on what endures beyond us because we know we’re leaving. This new perspective shapes the critical questions our aging parents are asking about themselves and their lives. To find answers, they need to go back in time into a full scale life review. The legacy task is about life review, about finding new meaning in what had occurred, reconsidering everything and arriving at a new conclusion. It’s a daunting task but transformational for our aging parents and us.
How can baby boomers help their aging parents discover their legacy? For legacy issues, questions provide the most effective signal to aging parents that you are interested and ready to help in the life review process. You need to learn about types of questions that open the life review door, what type of setting puts both at ease to discuss life review, and how to detect potential life review topics from everyday conversations.
The final mission of our aging parents is to manage the battle for control and the search for legacy, which means they are navigating two powerful currents at a point in their lives where their reserves are limited and their time is running short. They are hoping their baby boomer children can appreciate the magnitude of their mission and are willing to lend a hand.
Becoming Better Partners with our Parents
There are two important steps we can take that will dramatically impact our partnership in a positive way.
First, rethink our role in the battle for control. We need to understand the areas of our aging parents’ lives that are being threatened by control issues, or control is being taken away or lost. Take a control inventory: Healthcare – it is not about getting them to accept the right treatment, but advocating for the right and need to have the final say on their healthcare, to protect their dignity and ensure they don’t lose their right to have final say. How they live, how they manage their money, how they are coping with loss of a partner, and how they are coping with their impending death. Rethink how we can be a control facilitator for our aging parents, even when we think we have better ideas. Learn to use action verbs that signal they are in charge, and signal we are willing to partner with them through difficult choices that give them room to change their mind and direction. We need to signal that we are there for them for the duration in the same way they were there for us when we were growing up.
Second, rethink the implications of the search for legacy and the need for life review. Consider the expanse of the life journey our aging parents have made. Learn questions that open the life review door of raw material of legacy. Ask questions as openings present themselves – noticing old photographs. We also need to help them process the response our questions trigger, listen with new ears for values they represent, and appreciate the layers of detail that affect our aging parents lives.
By preserving control and facilitating formation of legacy, we enter into a transformational process. The task of our aging parents is meant to change them and us, to allow both generations to partner one last time.