Horne: What caring for an aging parent can teach you

Changing roles, health issues, family dynamics, financial pressures and housing transitions can challenge the ability for caregivers to stay balanced and connected with the seniors they feel responsible to.

We all have our own work and family responsibilities, so how do we stay focused on meeting the needs of our aging parents through what can often be a difficult time of change and letting go?

Assisting families in navigating transitions that aging can present is what I do.

This stage of life for parents and adult children can be rewarding, but is not without its challenges.

I have been the primary caregiver for my own 91-year-old mom for several years.

The greatest benefit of successfully managing her elder care transitions has been to renew our relationship, but it has also challenged me to understand how I can support her in redefining independence, while enhancing her quality of life.

Together with my three sisters, we have faced the stress and worry that comes when an elderly parent struggles to live on their own.

Our mom’s fears of living alone and our concern for her safety in a large house prompted a necessary move to seniors housing.

The risk of falling, poor vision and hearing, health issues and memory loss made it too difficult to ensure her safety and well being in her own home.

It has been a stressful transition, but there are many things we, as a family, have learned, that I am now able to pass on to others with true empathetic awareness.

A quote from Bernice Johnson Reagon is:  “Life’s challenges are not supposed to paralyze; they’re supposed to help you discover who you are.”

So how do we do this?

In this column, I will often talk about the emotional needs of both the elder and the involved family members, as these are sometimes neglected and need to be addressed with patience and understanding.

Emotional needs for each of us are met in unique and individual ways.

The trick in relationships is giving attention to a loved one in the way that they can receive it.

The result is an easing of potential resistance and conflict for everyone involved in the process of providing elder care.

As described by Dr. Gary Chapman in his bestseller, Learning the 5 Love Languages, these individual ways people receive love and support are:

• Words of affirmation —someone who thrives on verbal compliments or hearing encouraging words

• Quality time—giving undivided attention and time

• Receiving gifts—giving that little something extra in a physical form to show you are thinking of that person

• Acts of service—actually doing the day to day things that an elder can no longer manage

• Physical touch—being held, touched or soothed physically.

Keeping these five strategies in mind can ease the fear of losing independence for the parent and eliminate some of the stress that a caregiver may feel that they are “never doing it well enough.”

This awareness may also give you the space needed to be respectful of the amount and magnitude of change and loss of control your parent is dealing with.

Today our lives are very full and we move at a fast pace.

Consider this time of transitions, often accompanied with the necessity to slow down, as a gift to your parent and to yourself. You will never regret it.

For myself, the experience of showing compassion and patience with my mom has provided many shared moments of joy and love.

It has taught me to give the same generous gift of understanding to myself—an enlightening and unexpected outcome .

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