Saturday, February 26, 2011

When Helping Aging Parents Isn't Helpful

4 Common Mistakes We Make When Trying to Help Parents Age Well
Some "courtesies" today may be considered good manners, but in fact don't help older people age well.  They chip away at independence and work against physical fitness, so necessary for successful aging.
I've become conscious of this since my 97-year-old mother-in-law (and Senior Advisor to my blog, R) has made a full recovery from her broken hip and is again living alone (with an alert pendant) in her home of 60+ years.
She still goes to physical therapy twice a week, where she's being trained to walk confidently on her own--without cane. Surprisingly I realize my instincts weren't helping this goal.
After spending 4 months in a rehab center doing physical therapy to strengthen muscles and regain her ability to walk, her handicapped parking sticker is readily available.  But why use it to park up close (except in emergency situations) when walking is excellent exercise for her?
Nor do I open the car door for her any more.  She was taught how to open a car door and get in properly--cane and all. It took hard work on her part to accomplish this. Do I reinforce independence or contribute to her muscle strength by opening the car door? or closing it?
"It's nice to let people do for you," says R, "but pretty soon you get used to it and you begin to lose independence.  And that happens with too many people.  I've been watching it.  Pretty soon they can't do for themselves what they really are capable of doing--and they lose a lot of their life."
When/if this happens it lose-lose for everyone, except perhaps for assisted living facilities and 24/7 caregivers.  Adult children must "step up" and fill in. Don't we want to avoid this as long as possible--if not forever?
Are we helpful, when we help old people out of a chairIf they can get up by themselves they exercise leg and arm muscles. Older people get up--unaided--more easily from a chair with a sturdy seat and sturdy arms. Every older person's home should have one--as should their children's.
Fact: countless older people can't get off of the toilet due to weak leg and arm muscles. (Worry not--they've found raised seats in the catalogs and surgical supply places, but why help parents get into that situation?)
When parents use a walker but are seated, for example at a restaurant, it's common to see well-meaning children pull them up from their seat. This deprives the walker-user from exercising arm and leg muscles, plus elderly people have thin skin--bruising can occur. We should stand firm, reach out and let the walker-using person grab our hands and pull him/herself up.
What else is not helpful? Basically--even with the best of intentions-- doing anything for aging parents that they can do for themselves.

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