Caring for your aging parents — 15 January 2013
Make a difference in the life of your aging parent

The life of adult children is complicated enough. Having the responsibility of caring for elderly parents leaves many Boomers bewildered about how to best attend to their elders’ needs.

Perhaps the most daunting of the many issues that may plague your senior are the emotional ones. Some seniors are critical, complaining, needy for excessive attention, difficult to please or have a dour view of life. Being with them is not uplifting and thus many adult children avoid frequent contact with their elders.

Perhaps the greatest psychological impediment for seniors is the sense of not mattering. When we don’t matter we all shatter. Being alone and lonely hinders one’s will to live. It evokes fear, shame and feelings of worthlessness that are devastating. Any evidence of recognition dispels the doubts about one’s reason to continue to exist.

Dr. Carla Perissinotto, of U.C.S.F. who studied 1,604 adults age 60 and older found that 43 percent reported feeling lonely.

Andrew Steptoe, director of the Institute of Epidemiology at University College, London reported, “There is growing evidence that both loneliness and social isolation are related to biological processes that may increase health risk, including changes in immune and inflammatory processes and disruption of the stress-related hormones.”

I experienced one dramatic example of the impact of loneliness on survival. As I greeted an elderly woman in a nursing home with a smile, she said, “You are the most wonderful person in the world. No one ever visits me, my husband is gone and I am all alone. It doesn’t really matter to me if I live or die, since no one really cares.”

Dr. Perissinotto explains, “Sometimes for older people, just realizing that someone is listening and they’re not being ignored makes a difference.”

Attention is a very strong remedy for alleviating some of the woes of the elderly. As all other people, seniors thrive when they are among people who care about them, engage them in conversation, listen attentively, treat them with respect and affirm them. All compassionate responses are received as forms of love that heals.

To facilitate your comfort in engaging a senior in conversation, replace the thought that this individual is unemployed, uninformed, boring, complaining or old and thus a non-contributor with the idea that he/she is a precious being, a source of fascinating information and wisdom that can enrich your life.

Use your curiosity about the past to enhance your understanding of your genealogy, family history, culture and customs that may give you a better understanding of yourself as you provide attention, validation and life force to your elder parent or relative.

To help seniors and yourself feel better:

¨     Alter your view of the elderly as a burden to regarding him/her as a treasure.

¨     Let your senior know that he/she matters. Feeling valued can bolster his/her sense of wellbeing.

¨     Regard your elder as a source of wisdom. It will enrich both of you and cement your love.



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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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