Accepting Changes of Aging

This is the second in a three part series on the three “A’s” of helping an aging loved one. The three “A’s” are Awareness, Acceptance, and Action.

In this series we have been discussing how to be present and help an aging parent or loved one. Last week we discussed developing an awareness of changes that we should be looking for as a loved gets into the older years.

Often we miss the early signs because we don’t know to look for them. Or, we simply don’t want to see the changes, because acknowledging them represents a loss-or the frightening notion that something serious is happening. This “denial” is not deliberate; it is a normal coping mechanism that every human being experiences.

I have observed this frequently in the case of an older person who has early signs of dementia. Family members- and the person themselves- tend to write off the gradual changes as normal aging. The problem is we miss the benefit of early detection and intervention that can help to manage the health concern.

For other people, there is not a major health condition but rather a cumulative effect of small changes. This can take the form of balance issues, medication management concerns, hearing loss, grief and depression, loss of spouse or close friends, loss of appetite and weight loss, a fall, car accidents, vision problems, and any number of other changes that can occur with age.

Regardless of the changes that are occurring, the first step is awareness and the second is acceptance. This is of course easier said than done, mostly because it will require some emotional “work”. Changes in an older person’s health have profound meaning in the life of an adult child. From loss of what was, to fear of the future for everyone concerned.

Each of us will have our own way of getting to acceptance. It is usually a complex interplay of multiple factors including the state of the relationship- past and present- temperament, family dynamics, work and family stressors. Ultimately the path will boil down to two things: facts and feelings.

  • Facts: Face what is happening head on to get a diagnosis and a plan. Tap into aging experts. All older adults will benefit from the services of a good geriatrician-a physician that specializes in the care of the elderly. Help your loved one get to this specialist and be honest and thorough about what is happening, even if you think something is insignificant. Secondarily, a geriatric care manager can help you understand options for home help and senior living. More on that in next week’s blog.
  • Feelings: Feel the feelings that come along. Talk to a trusted friend, aging professional or a counselor, keep a journal. Get together as a family and talk openly about what the changes mean to each person. This is the path to acceptance, no other way. For most people this will represent a time of personal growth.
    All of life’s stages represent endings and beginnings. As an older person in your life changes it will bring challenges, but also beauty and growth. Keep your eyes open for the blessings, and don’t miss the beautiful moments along the way.

Be Well on Purpose!

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