I think I can say with high confidence that your parents taught you how to walk…or what the kinesiologists call controlled falling…it’s all fine when you were very young and built very close to the ground. Your parents also probably taught you how to do that bodily function repertoire as well as that using utensils at the table and eating meals repertoire. And then there is riding a bike and every other first that followed.
What they may or may not have taught you is how to age gracefully.
Not to be negative, but let’s start with the six things not to do…yourself or your parents…to age gracefully according to columnist Jane Brody.
1. Chairs are for sitting, not for climbing – Falls are common among the elderly, but they’re not inevitable. The CDC estimates one elderly fall every second of every day. Common causes include kitchen or outdoor reaching without a ladder. Older adults need to ask for help and/or use the proper equipment to avoid being one of these stats.
2. Kitchen utensils and dry goods don’t have to be in the cupboard – As your older loved ages, the sugar and flour may still be in the cabinets above the cooking area. Encourage a rethinking of kitchen geography that places the daily needs within easy reach.
3. Talking about health issues is not a cure – It really is no surprise that most people would prefer to talk about your older loved one’s recent vacation, book read or movie viewing than their medications and ailments. Learn how to gently redirect conversation to the grandchildren, the beautiful day or anything but ailments and diagnoses.
4. If it hurts don’t do it – Help your older loved one to avoid being that joke about “doctor, it hurts when I do this.” To which the doctor says, “Don’t do that.” Pickle ball may be a fine alternative to playing tennis, and we all know that walking is considered the best cardiovascular exercise. There is more.
5. Don’t make driving a problem – Appreciate that if your older loved can be encouraged to talk about driving, there will always be time for “that talk” about the keys. Before that, however, help them to find the vehicle that has eyes and ears as well as alarms all its own to partner with your older loved one’s capabilities.
6. Assume nothing – Just because eyeglasses aren’t broken doesn’t mean 20/20 vision, just because hearing aids make one look old doesn’t mean there’s no need for hearing aids, and just because the car still works doesn’t mean it should still be driven.
Let’s be more positive. We’ve all heard about the importance of “random acts of kindness.” You’d be amazed at how many positive conversations you can have if you start with a cheerful or flattering comment to even a stranger. And one more thing we were always encouraged to do when we were young was “act our age.” Discourage your older loved one from taking on that mantra. Encourage them to associate with younger friends, talk about what lights up the room and to never act their age.
Charlotte Bishop is a Caregiver Coach, an Aging Life Care Advisor, a Geriatric Care Manager and founder of Creative Care Management, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families in metropolitan Chicago. She also is the co-author of How Do I Know You? A Caregiver’s Lifesaver for Dealing with Dementia.