Thanks to modern medicine, new tech, the availability of taxpayer-funded safety net services like Meals on Wheels, seniors throughout America are aging safely in place longer than ever before.
But, almost invariably, the day comes when no amount of in-home care could provide for all a senior loved one's daily needs. When that day arrives, placement in senior living, a personal care home or a memory care home is the only remaining, safe option.
Naturally, no matter how nice and welcoming the new retirement community may be, moving out of a long-time home can make an elder feel sad or depressed. For some, the loss of independence and control of one's life is a tough pill to swallow.
And, although you'll try to strike cheerful and positive notes throughout the moving process, it can be emotionally taxing on you to see your loved ones in their most vulnerable moments.
So, what can you do to keep their spirits up? Today, let's talk about some techniques you could try.
Don't say you understand how they feel.
People often say this intending to convey sympathy. But you can't sympathize.
Sympathy means understanding the feelings of another because you've experienced exactly what he or she is going through.
But you haven't. You're not the one losing your independence. And you don't understand how your senior loved one feels, because every person interprets and experiences circumstances differently.
You can, however, empathize. You can acknowledge your loved one's feelings and try to better understand them. You can offer a hand to hold, an ear to listen, or a shoulder to cry on.
Aging parents might feel angry, sad, or embittered by their need to rely on others. Their pride might be wounded. They might worry about a burden they feel like they're placing on the family.
To help them, it's important that you show them they're not useless burdens, but still valued, loved members of the family.
So, what should you say?
Sometimes, you don't need to say anything at all.
Sometimes, it's enough just to be there. Visit often — weekly, or even daily, if you can. You'll help remind your relative that he or she is still connected.
Your visits don't have to have an agenda. They shouldn't feel like a duty you have to perform. Just enjoy each other.
Watch TV together. Discuss the events of your respective days. Reminisce about happy family times together. Tell jokes. Share a banana split. Bring the kids along once in a while for a play date.
Make the social rounds — go visit his or her retirement community neighbors together and help your parent make friends. Let Dad or Mom brag on you and the grandkids a little.
All of these can help keep your aging loved one adjust to his or her new life in the retirement home. They'll also help you adjust to your parent's changing abilities without feeling sad about them.
When you're at a loss for words, validate their feelings.
When you visit, don't allow your emotions to become the focus. Remember, you're there to cheer him or her up, not to vent your own feelings.
So, how do you keep the focus on your loved one's feelings if you feel tongue-tied, or if he or she doesn't want to open up to you right now? Affirmations and simple gestures can work wonders.
"I don't know what to say, Mom, other than I care about you."
"I saw these flowers today, Grandma, and know they're your favorite, so I thought you might like them for your dresser."
"You always been an amazing dad to me. You still are."
In each of these cases, your senior loved one's emotional wellbeing is the focus.
You're not calling attention to physical changes, memory changes, or the change in living circumstances. You're just allowing yourself to be what your older loved probably most needs: a reliable, kind and loving presence.
Use these techniques to help your loved one adjust to the move.
Here at Episcopal Church Home, we strive to provide a person-centered, safe and caring environment for all our senior residents and their family caregivers.
But, our elder care experts will tell you, no amount of cheerfulness on our part can substitute for your love for your older relatives. Be there for them. That's the most important thing you can do.