Saturday, June 26, 2010

Summer Ideas to Motivate Unmotivated Aging Parents

"My parents were my priority. I devoted myself to their needs," says a 60-year-old married daughter who had three teenagers and an important volunteer job at the time. "For over a decade their commitments and evening social engagements took precedence over plans my husband and I had as well as my friends...In retrospect, I gave up a lot." This is the extreme, of course. Her parents remained connected and engaged, aged well, lived long lives, and she was at their "beck and call" until the end.

Being engaged and connecting with people is important--we know that . To that end we've spent untold hours providing opportunities for our children. Think: hours spent car pooling and driving back and forth to various activities and birthday parties when children needed a driver? We make these efforts to help children age well. Should we make the same effort to help parents age well? Some do.

Most of us don't make such a sacrifice. The dedicated daughter's parents never had the chance to become couch potatoes. But what about those who are at risk or have already slipped into that mode? It's frustrating...

... But summer presents additional opportunities to jump-start aging parents, assuming they can walk--unaided or with walker or cane...and go for a ride. Even a wheel chair works in most instances. Usually this doesn't entail a huge commitment from adult children and most aging parents want to get out for something they will enjoy.

If they don't, don't be disappointed. It happens. Just plant the idea and let it "gel." Then try again later. It may make them feel good just knowing that you care enough to try and try again.

  • To begin: Set aside enough time so this isn't a "rush job." Time is in such short supply for us, but often hangs heavy on older people plus, they move slower. If they're going to feel this is an imposition--older people have pride and many won't want to impose--forget it.
  • Plan with them (including them shows respect and gives them something new to think about) or give them options to choose from. For those who don't get out much (except to go to doctors), "short and sweet" may be best. You can judge that based on your comfort level and theirs. It can be as simple as:
  1. sitting in a park, having a sandwich and watching the people, dogs etc. which provide easy topics of conversation
  2. taking a drive through town, to places your parent is familiar with, to new buildings and areas of town (if a parent rarely gets out), to your home (have a snack there)
  3. going to a mall, watch the people, go into a shop that interests your parent or has inventory that used to interest your parent (sporting goods, technology, hardware store) and check out what's new, have a snack
  4. a planned-ahead visit to a friend of your parent's, or to see a grandchild, or family member
  5. a drive that includes the grandchild's school, your workplace, another important place in your life or their earlier life (assuming they'd like that).
Obviously during the nice-weather days of summer, opportunities are unlimited. Time, your parent's strength, the activity, and your tolerance are the keys to success. And, if successful, planning for the next time gives aging parents something to look forward to. Senior advisor, R, calls that a "carrot." And, according to her, "carrots" are extremely important to older people and definitely help parents age well.

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