Hope for Seniors
One of the hardest phases in life is crossing into the senior years, both for that individual as well as for their family members. There are so many variables to consider when discussing this topic such as giving up your home, moving in with family or to an assisted living development, transportation, finances, the aging brain, understanding new boundaries, loss of independence and fear of illness or death. In order to truly understand how to support your aging family member or friend, you must first understand their perspective.
For seniors, their home is their base for all they have and it is an extension of their past and present memories. This is where they store their treasures, can be themselves, love others, relax and feel safe.
For seniors, their vehicle is their independence so that they can come and go whenever and wherever they choose. This gives them their legs to do anything, without anyone helping them or telling them they have too. Their vehicle is their freedom ticket.
For seniors, their family and friends are their heritage, their support and their reason to share old stories, cook traditional meals, celebrate holidays and be a branch of that tree that leads them all to one another.
For seniors, their life and all they have in it, is a testament to who they are.
So, what happens when the senior that you love loses their home, their vehicle and/or their family/spouse? To understand this, you must first understand when happens to the body and mind as we all age.
The aging body can begin to break down and bring on new medical conditions such as diabetes, arthritis, blood clots, heart issues, slower movement, loss of balance, incontinence, vision loss, hearing loss, cancer and broken bones. This not only slows you down, but makes it difficult for basic functions such as walking, bending over, driving, watching TV, talking with family and friends, getting out of bed, going to the bathroom, cooking food and so on. Things that we are all used to doing each day of our life and many times, things that bring us the most joy.
The aging mind can also break down and bring on new conditions such as different forms and levels of dementia, memory loss, speech problems, cognition errors, slower thinking levels and slower response to stimuli. With these issues we often experience confusion, anger, frustration, sadness, despair, intense emotions, depression, anxiety and sometimes extreme mood swings.
When family members face the difficult task of working with a senior to transition into either their home or an assisted living situation, not only is it extremely difficult for seniors to consider this, even if the discussion took place years in advance (which is highly recommended before the age of 60) and there was a well-planned idea that everyone was in agreement with, things may still be rocky. Family members often feel as though they must force the senior into a decision because they are seeing things from the outside and begin to fear for that person’s safety. Often times this can cause a chain reaction within every branch of the family that can either work smoothly and united or more often than not, unravel at the seams. Often times one person is left the brunt of handing the care and arrangements and feels completely overwhelmed and unsupported when having to face their senior member, as always being the bad guy. This can lead to hostility between these two people, as that one member gains total control over their senior family member. If someone was handling all of your money, making all your appointments, buying all of your items and controlling every aspect of your life…would you continue to get along?
One of the best things a family can do is meet with each other and their senior regularly so that everyone is on board and being supported. Tough decisions should never be left up to one person, working together will help alleviate some of that fear, anger and bitterness that can happen when a senior feels forced by someone they trust. If you can learn to not lead with your emotions and look at the situation logically, you may see each sides different perspectives and be able to accommodate everyone without jeopardizing your own mental health. Creating healthy and clearly understood boundaries in each critical area will keep things moving as smoothly as possible. Consistency is key during this phase of life, no one likes a rug being jerked out from under them, especially when they are unable to catch themselves from falling.
Of course not all of these issues will happen to everyone and some seniors really do transition well into the different phases of life. There are many resources out there such as companions, adult activity centers, counseling and more, often times covered under insurance so be sure to check into what benefits you may qualify for. If you do find yourself struggling, whether you are the senior, a family member or anyone in-between, please don’t hesitate to reach out for support. Individual and/or family counseling may be that little extra something you need in order to make the final leap into a new life setting. Where there’s help, there is hope.
I am a counselor at Lighthouse Counseling at the beautiful downtown Waconia location. I enjoy working with children ages 6 and up, teens, college students, adults, couples, families and seniors. I focus on using a variety of strategies, based upon what may work best with each individual personality and situation. If you are interested in establishing a supportive, trusting and open relationship, then we may be a good fit and I would love to hear from you.