If you have parents that are getting older, there may be new issues that you both have to deal with. Have you ever noticed that their world may become smaller when friends and family move away? There can be issues of all kinds from mobility to illness, to feelings of isolation. They may feel that their independence is being taken away, and you may feel the added responsibility of caring not only for their needs, but their happiness. I can remember when my sister and I had to take the car keys away from my mom. On one hand, she knew it made sense, but she fought it every step of the way. It can be a challenging time, but as children of aging parents, it’s also a unique opportunity to help them stay connected, engaged and far from the inner chains of loneliness. Here are a few strategies that can help:
Suggest social activities:
People need people; after all we are social animals. For emotional vibrancy, humans need to have some sort of social life. Encourage your parents to be part of a community, to participate in its events, and to share their interest with like-minded people. Whether it’s a book club or walking group, connection is key.
Help them learn to connect via technology:
In this digital age, it’s more important than ever to know about smartphones, zoom calls and other ways to stay in touch with family and friends. There are online communities that offer programs and growth opportunities. Telemedicine is another reason to make sure they know how to stay in touch with their medical providers.
Encourage regular exercise:
Whether its walking with a friend, starting Tai Chi or doing a chair yoga class, there is something for everyone. Not only does this keep the body moving, it also provides a fun way to get together with others. Exercise, known as a natural antidepressant, activates endorphins. This makes a real difference, especially if done regularly.
Get them to volunteer, start a hobby, or do a passion project.:
Volunteering gives a parent a sense of identity and purpose. It feels good to be part of a community. Hobbies help them continue to grow and feel a sense of accomplishment. Baby steps done consistently not only give a rhythm to their days, it feels good to learn or do something new. Getting them a potty trained dog or cat is also a game changer.
Include them in your life:
Whether it’s coming to family birthday parties, kid’s school events, or getting together regularly for dinner, include them as much as you can. They want to feel needed, and valued – who doesn’t? Ask questions about their childhood and formative years = that’s an education in itself.
Advocate for mental health:
Depression and hearing loss can lead to a sense of isolation. Have your loved ones have regular check-ins? You do the same; as caregiving can be a full-time and often thankless job. Take breaks (yeah, YOU) for self-care, to be in nature, to get together with friends, exercise or just read a book. This is often a marathon, not a sprint, so you need to keep yourself in good spirits too.
Helping our aging parents stay involved in life can be such a great thing for both of you! With empathy, patience, and some creativity, we can help them have more years filled with joy, companionship, and purpose. Just remember to put on the oxygen mask on yourself first, because its only then, that you can be there, (not in burnout land), for the people you love most.
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