Your aging parent doesn't need a closet full of clothes. Or a five-pound box of candy. More than anything, he or she needs three things:
1. To BE LOVED.
2. To BELONG.
3. To BE BRAVE.
Abby Durr, owner of Silver Age Housing and Care Referrals, expressed those thoughts not long ago. They guide our company as we work with families in finding housing and care for their loved ones. These principles can also apply to your relationship with your aging parent.
1. YOUR PARENT NEEDS TO BE LOVED: Love is expressed in many forms: sharing family photos and memories, paying and receiving compliments, and reminding our elders of their value as people created by God. When they need care, in their home or in assisted living or an adult family home, pay attention to the caregivers. Do they show love by making eye contact with the elders? Are hugs, touches on the hand or shoulder or high fives a part of their day, assuming the resident wants that? Do they know the residents' favorite foods and those they can't stand? Asking questions and closely observing the caregivers' behavior will help you determine whether they love what they do, and the elders they serve. Love counts!
2. YOUR PARENT NEEDS TO BELONG. Being part of something bigger is an idea your aging parent understands. He or she has survived The Great Depression, World War II and more. Camaraderie and sacrifice are more than words; they're etched into the character of this generation. Today your aging parent still wants to fit in. In your family gatherings, that means taking time for conversation and encouraging contact with children and grandchildren. In an adult family home or assisted living, activities like sing-alongs and picnics can build community. When people talk to each other, meals can feed both body and soul.
3. YOUR PARENT NEEDS TO BE BRAVE. Everyone wants to be able to do good for others. Yet when elders are frail and need lots of help, it's easy for them to say, "What can I do for anyone? I need someone to do the simplest things for me." Abby's grandmother said those very words. She suffers from Parkinson's and is growing increasingly dependent on others. Abby wisely said, "Grandma, you have something we don't have: time. You can bless others by using your time to pray for your children, your grandchildren and your great-grandchildren." Despite frailty, elders can help in their own way. In group living settings, I've seen residents fold towels and help caregivers measure ingredients for making cookies. Others make homemade birthday cards for other residents. When they give, they receive a bigger gift: joy.