Recognizing signs of parents' aging can help smooth process
Wednesday, May 18, 2005
MANHATTAN, Kan. - Adult children often fail to pick up on signs that their parents are aging. Many ignore the obvious, be it gray hair, an occasional lapse in memory or diminishing energy, said a Kansas State University Research and Extension specialist on aging.
"Acknowledging that your parents are aging means facing your own mortality," Kerri Parsons said. "Yet, parents and children who can accept the aging process and work together to make adjustments often can minimize some of the effects of aging, reduce frustration for all concerned and nurture family relationships with each other."
The aging process typically becomes more apparent around the age of 50, as hair grays and energy begins to wane. After 50, adults generally require more sleep and may also require a more structured diet or more time to process - or learn - new material, Parsons said.
"Saying that is not the same as saying an older person can't learn. As we age, we typically require more time to process information or switch from one task to another," she said.
"Use it or lose it is a familiar phrase, but, in reality, wise advice," Parsons said.
"Exercise your mind and your body." As we age, physical and mental health also can become conflicting issues, she said. If an older adult is seeing more than one physician, he or she may be mixing medications and be subject to side effects such as dehydration, depression, fatigue or a drug reaction.
So, what's a family to do? Here are some tips from K-State's specialist on aging:
* Talk about aging. Be observant and ask questions, but respect each other's dignity and privacy. Be interested, but not intrusive.
* Encourage parents to have regular medical checkups, and volunteer to accompany them, if you can.
* Encourage older parents to make a list of current medications that they are taking and to carry it with them.
* Encourage mental stimulation, through conversation, reading, word, card or other games, social or volunteer activity, community service or a hobby club.
* Encourage physical activity - go for a walk or work in the garden together and explore neighborhood fitness opportunities at the senior center.
"Stay involved. Check the schedule, see if others from the neighborhood are enrolled and arrange transportation, if needed,"
* Keep in touch with a telephone call, e-mail - or both, if distance or scheduling make it difficult to visit regularly.
* Help make the home safe and accessible.
"Making adjustments in the home may mean that older adults can stay in their home longer," said Parsons, who said something as simple as removing scatter rugs, installing grab bars by the toilet or tub or adding night lights typically improves safety in the home.
"Replacing worn kitchenware with new, easy-to-handle utensils or lighter weight pots and pans will make it easier for older adults to continue food preparation, just as rearranging the furniture to allow more open space usually makes it easier to move about," she said.
"Little changes may not seem like much, but they may be just enough to make it possible for older adults to stay in their own home and retain their independence longer," Parsons said.
"The intergenerational process in which adult children move into the role of caregivers for aging parents is a transition that also can provide a lesson for the whole family," Parsons said. "Children who see their parents caring for their grandparents usually learn respect for the aging process and parents and grandparents as well."
For more information on aging and care giving, interested persons can contact the local K-State Research and Extension office or visit Extension's Web site: www.oznet.ksu.edu and Parson's Web site: http://www.tenderheartscaregiving.org.