When Dealing with Aging Parents Patience is a Virtue. Start Practicing.
Someone once told me, “Don’t ask God for patience, you’ll be put in situations that test you repeatedly.” I wish I had listened.
Mom has slowed down considerably. Don’t get me wrong, she is still mentally sharp, but physically? At 87, being with her means doing things on “mom time” and it can try my patience. The reality is your seniors’ hearing and eyesight is not the same and stiff joints, muscle loss or cognitive issues mean they move more slowly. (Jump to: Lessons Learned)
Like many of us, I am usually in a rush, too much to accomplish, too little time. When mom is concentrating on a task, and I move and speak quickly, or there is additional stimulus from the TV, it throws her off. Her brain simply doesn’t process like it used to.
On weekends I care for mom, I have learned not to rush in the house and start throwing questions at her, hurrying to check something off my “to do” list. Instead I make myself sit down, let her tell me who she has talked to, what appointments we need to make, and what Bella (her dog) did earlier.
Slowing down to mom time is not easy because her to do list does not always match mine. I forget that while I’ve been gone, her worries have been growing. I’m focused on the big picture, so mom’s list can seem trivial. But it’s not. I need to make myself listen without value judgement and either fix it, help her fix it or put it in perspective for her. My theory is that our seniors are often alone with their thoughts and that can cause their thoughts to grow into overwhelming worries.
Recognize as people age, they don’t multi-task well. Multi-tasking diverts concentration and can easily lead to forgetting. To combat forgetting, mom will double-check herself (and me!). And forgetting raises a big fear; “Could this be the start of dementia?’”
Concentrating on one thing at a time is a good strategy, but that takes more time. Dinner is a good example, I swear by the time mom takes her pills and pours her drink, I can be finished eating my meal and she hasn’t even started hers. And this sense of caution and concern can result in the question, “Did I take my pills?” even though she took them just after pouring her drink. I try hard to say, “Yes, mom” instead of “Yes, you just took them!”
I used to become frustrated and impatient when I would bring groceries home. Items come out of bags one at a time, mom makes sure she recognizes it, and then puts it away. It was agony not to grab it out of her hand and do it myself. But I know that allowing her to put each grocery item away means she will remember where she put it. Now I patiently sit at the kitchen table, ready to answer questions.
Letting mom take her time over this task is a lesson each one of her caregivers has to learn. I would be waiting patiently while they would take multiple things out of bags, show them to her (like she could see it!), and ask where it goes. Realizing she was getting frustrated and angry, I’d intervene. “We both need to slow down to mom time. Let her take things out and put them away at her own pace. She will put aside the things you need to put away for her and tell you where it goes.”
There are many articles telling parents how to slow down and enjoy their children. It’s the same with your parents. Slow down, be in the moment with them. You’ll be surprised at how much you can enjoy the stories that often accompany these times. And think of it as payback for all the knock, knock jokes you told.
- Don’t multi-task (e.g. be on your phone, watching TV) when you are talking to or working on something with your loved one. Focus on your senior, be with them where they are. You will be surprised by what you may learn in their story and its details.
- Don’t be surprised if your senior needs to adjust to your presence, especially if you don’t see one another often. Realize you are interrupting their routine, in the same way as your routine feels interrupted.
- Figure out what time you need to leave to get to an appointment and add a half hour to your time frame. Getting ready to go out and the physical act of leaving the house takes more time now. Interestingly things we take for granted, like the physical act of dressing, slows older people down. Leave more time than you would ordinarily.
- Wait for it, wait for it…. It may take a while to get the entire story, but jumping into complete sentences or finish the story is rude. If they say I can’t remember, or ask for help, then go for it.
- Other resources:
- Psychology Today: 8 Good Habits to have with Frail and Aging Parents
- Hill Law Group: Slow Down and Enjoy Your Elders.
- Bottom Line, Inc: How to Keep Your Cool When Dealing With Aging Parents.
Disclaimer: The material in this blog is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace, nor does it replace, consulting with a physician, lawyer, accountant, financial planner or other qualified professional.