Sometimes focusing on the simple is best. Especially when we’re visiting our aging parent. Our goal in a visit is to communicate love and acceptance and to discern any changes that are going on in their lives. We want to help. Sometimes that’s hard to do.
I’m hoping these simple ideas will spark others that will help you as you visit with your parent.
Stop. In many ways, we Boomers run at warp speed. We cram a million things (it seems) into a day. Our aging parents, on the other hand, focus on one or two main tasks. We walk faster; we talk faster; we think faster (not necessarily better, just faster.) We’re the hare; they’re the tortoise. Our communication works best if we slacken our pace to match theirs. Simple things can make them feel at ease. Talk a little slower, for example. Avoid multiple questions and instead stick to one subject. When we walk with them, dropping our speed allows them to keep up with us. That’s key to their self esteem.
Look. Be aware of changes that are taking place in your aging parent. If your parent has always resembled the crumpled Oscar Madison in “The Odd Couple,” a messy house is part of his character and DNA. But if he had prided himself on majoring in “House Beautiful,” a sudden change in housekeeping might mean he’s slipped into depression. Look for other things that signal that a change: the refrigerator growing indoor green plants, or your parent wearing the same clothes day after day. When you gather facts that don’t add up, you’ll want to talk to someone, and at some point approach your parent with your concerns.
Listen. When another Boomer asks, “How are you doing?” your automatic answer is probably, “Fine,” even when you’re not so fine. Your aging parent has removed his or her social filters, though, so when you ask that same question, “How are you doing?” be prepared to listen carefully to several minutes of medical issues such as medication changes, upcoming surgeries, and a litany of aches and pains. Your parent is focused on the physical, understandably, and that probably won’t change. The best thing we can do is to really listen, even when we’re not excited about the topic. Forget the I-Phone, the clock on the wall or the television screen. Focus on him or her. When you do, surprises sometimes happen. Stories emerge, entertain, and excite. Happy listening.