Enabling Aging Parents to Age In Place

Adult children caring for aging parents can feel more confident and less burdened if they know what to expect. This primer on slow medicine and how to help them age in place can help.

The principles of “aging in place” and Dr. Dennis McCullough’s “slow medicine” can help adult children get unstuck from difficult relational issues when caring for aging parents.

age in place article cover image

Age in Place: What Those Caring for Aging Parents Should Know

Aging in place is a movement to help aging parents stay in their homes for as long as possible.

To achieve this, adult children and their aging parents need to overcome the prevailing belief in society that discussing illness and death is akin to bringing it on. Like any other goal in life, aging in place requires forethought, planning, and discussion.

Age in Place: What Those Caring for Aging Parents Can Do

Adult children can initiate conversations with aging parents early on by asking them about their experience of aging and their view of the future.

They can research legal and financial planning that will help achieve the goals of everyone involved, instead of waiting for a crisis that can take choices away.

Adult children can research and understand communities like Beacon Hill that provide the services people need to age in place.

Slow Medicine: What Those Caring for Aging Parents Should Know

Adult children caring for aging parents need to understand how to prevent medical crises.

Slow medicine teaches that the current medical protocols in our society are often not in the best interests of the elderly. In most cases, they cater to the needs of doctors, insurers, and younger people.

The prevailing medical paradigm teaches that everything that can be tried should be tried at all costs. This ignores the fact that death is a natural part of life, and an individual is more than just an illness.

Elderly individuals have needs unique to their age that are not taken into account in health care. For example, it can take an older adult twice as long to recover from a simple procedure than a person at mid-life. Yet insurers do not honor this.

Slow Medicine: What Adult Children Caring for Aging Parents Can Do

Slow medicine emphasizes developing a “Circle of Concern” – the friends, neighbors, adult children, doctors, nurses, and other support persons aging parents must rely upon to prevent crises and help them stay in their homes longer.

Adult children can help this type of trust develop over time by starting a conversation about health care early on and listening instead of pushing. Aging parents will be more likely to confide in adult children and doctors if they see them as collaborators and not dictators who will push difficult and taxing medical procedures on them.

When an elderly parent complains of being tired or slowing down, adult children need not tell their parents that he or she is “giving in” or “giving up.” Adult children need to accept the facts of aging.

Aging parents have slowed down cognitively. There may be hearing and vision loss. They are more apt to withdraw than to open up in a crowd of visitors. Adult children may need to spend one-on-one time with each parent to truly understand what is going on.

If adult children understand what to expect practically and medically, the latter part of their aging parents’ lives can be a healing time of connection, rather than a terrible burden being carried by an adult child alone. Slow medicine and aging in place resources can help.

Other posts you may find helpful:

The Blessings of Alzheimer’s: to Heal Broken Hearts

The Blessings of Alzheimer’s to Heal Broken Hearts? Who would think that there were any blessings with Alzheimer’s, right? Today I spent some time at my mom’s house, helping sort out closets. She was one of many children from a poor family and didn’t have much growing up.

dealing with alzheimers
Mom never passed up a great sale on clothing… so many things still had price tags on them.

You could say that she overcompensated as an adult and has more clothes than anyone I know. Today? I emptied two of her six closets and bagged up 14 bags of assorted clothes and plastic hangers, most items still had price tags on them, all items were several sizes too large for her.

The Blessings of Alzheimer’s: to Heal Broken Hearts

There is more to Alzheimer’s than just losing your memory. Your body shrinks, aggression increases, agitation occurs, difficulty with self-care develops, you have the meaningless repetition of your own words, your personality changes, and you have a general lack of restraint.

A lot of this was evident today with Mom. She would get angry that I bagged up certain items of clothes, even though they were four sizes too large. She remembered loving to wear a certain top or dress, and where she wore it but had a hard time understanding that it was no longer something that fit her. When I filled up two bags with plastic hangers that were now empty? She yelled at me.

Soon, the agitation set in and she started walking around and digging through drawers. She dug through the secretary’s desk of hers and found fifty-year-old love letters that my dad had written to her before going off to Vietnam.

Even though she divorced him 40 years ago, she saved the letters he had written to her.

She smiled as she read them aloud.

She was able to transport herself back to those days of young love, and remember things like how he had proposed to her ten times before she finally said “yes”.

She forgot about the nasty divorce that happened after their tenth year of marriage when he was cheating on her. She was miserable. She was a newly divorced mother of two who didn’t even have a driver’s license.

She forgot about the arguments that occurred over medical decisions for their shared son and fighting with the schools over his disabilities. She didn’t remember trying to take her own life when I came home early from school and found and stopped her…

She forgot about all of those things and would go on and on about how he loved her, and the special things he would do for her. The letters he wrote her from Vietnam, how he researched the Catholic Church and compared it to his own faith upbringing. How he thought he might not be a great father as he was too much of an “Alpha Male” to be able to do right by kids… and I could go on.

I used to be so angry with my dad and blamed him for so much of what went wrong. After all, he was the one who brought other adults into their marriage. Today?

I took peace in the fact that she didn’t remember any of the bad, but only the good. She had happy memories today. She smiled and laughed today. I hope that is how this journey ends for her: with smiles and laughter.

Mom, with her current husband, who has been amazing through all of this

I cried when driving home.

Other posts you may find helpful: