It can be hard to think about your parents growing older and becoming less able, when not so long ago they were the ones taking care of you. As some of the most cherished people in your life, the thought of them growing old leads to the inevitable fear that someday they’ll no longer be around, and that’s a scary idea to contemplate. Despite what we might wish, the fact is everybody will age, and with aging comes a range of health problems that can affect the quality of life. As a loving child, you’ll obviously be hoping that your Mom and Dad stay fit and healthy for as long as possible, and you can help them to enjoy their later years to the full by giving them any support they might need.
Older but still active
Just because someone is getting on in years doesn’t mean they don’t still need their independence and dignity. It’s frustrating and depressing for seniors to feel that they are being patronized and having their abilities undermined. Keeping an eye on your folks means exactly that, being mindful of where there could be issues, but not trying to interfere or take over. Any attempts to prescribe a course of action to your parents or override their feelings are likely to be met with resentment and won’t do either of you any good. Your best bet is to observe how they’re getting on and watch out for any signs that they’re not coping with something any longer, or that they’re showing symptoms of a health problem. Your folks could go on for many years with only minor niggles, still doing everything for themselves and be active and happy. Age is a state of mind as well as a biological inevitability, and the more positive and youthful attitude seniors have to life and themselves, the better they are likely to feel. Your job is to look out for them the same as you would your friends and siblings, with less concern about their age in itself and more about how they are feeling and behaving.
Health problems in later life
There are some conditions which manifest in later life more frequently than in younger years, and most of these have such a gradual progression that it’s not always obvious there is something wrong in the initial stages. These are some of the more common health problems that have a gradual onset:
- Type 2 Diabetes: More common as people age, and those who are overweight or have a family history are more likely to be sufferers. Things to be on the lookout for include increased thirst, more frequent trips to the bathroom, increased appetite, blurred vision, and fatigue. If your parent complains of any of these problems, or you notice a change in their normal habits, it could be that they’re exhibiting symptoms. Any one symptom in isolation could just as easily have a different cause, for example, they may need to have their vision tested if they complain of problems seeing clearly. A simple blood test can confirm the diagnosis so that it wouldn’t be too much of a hardship, and this could be a good way to encourage your parent to see the doctor. Asking if they’ve had a routine diabetes test, rather than insisting they should get tested. If it’s identified, there are lifestyle changes, medications and monitoring procedures that will help keep your parent healthy, so it’s not a diagnosis to fear. Leaving it untreated can lead to more serious health issues though, like heart disease, kidney disease, loss of sight, and circulation problems that can result in amputation of the feet, so it is important not to ignore it.
- Dementia: One of the most dreaded ailments of older age is dementia, the loss of memory and changes in personality that can make sufferers forget their own families and behave inappropriately and sometimes violently. Many older people fear the diseases that lead to dementia, like Alzheimer’sbecause they tend to be more forgetful and worry that this means dementia is around the corner. Although the loss of memory is a significant symptom, it’s not related to the forgetfulness everyone experiences as they age. Latest studies show that this increase in absent mindedness is largely due to the existence of so much more knowledge in the brain than that of a younger person. In simple terms, this leads to a decrease in an older person’s ability to access the information they need, but it doesn’t signify that there is anything wrong. Signs to look out for with dementia are difficulties remembering recent events, names and people that should be automatically recognized like spouses and children, increased irritability and unpredictable behaviors like going out without saying anything or getting up in the night to do some housework. It’s not an easy diagnosis to hear, and treatments are available, but there is as yet no cure. You could consider expert care for your parent in these circumstances, which you can learn more about from this website. It’s a good idea too to find out as much as you can about the best ways that you can help and keep your Mom or Dad happy for as long as possible.
- Osteoporosis: Crumbling of the bones that can lead to painful fractures following minor falls and knocks. Most common in women, with contributing risk factors including being post-menopausal, smoking, a lack of calcium in the diet, and whether anyone else in the family has the disease. Early diagnosis is best because treatments are available that can reduce the progress of the disease, and help avoid the pain of fractured bones. One sign that your Mom may have osteoporosis is a change in the curvature of her spine, so if she seems like she’s stooping or hunching, particularly in the neck and shoulder areas, that should be a warning sign.
It’s hard watching those you love growing older and finding they encounter difficulties, but if you are there to support them and help them through, that’s the best gift you can give them.