The aging process involves not just the individual but also those around them. Watching an aging parent go through these changes can be emotionally challenging. Unfortunately, many people focus on their loved ones so much that they neglect their own needs, but you cannot care for others if you are not taking care of yourself — and this is easier said than done. Here, we explain what to expect as your loved one ages and provide tips about how to help them with various changes they’ll experience as they age.
As a person ages, time changes their body and brain in complicated ways. These changes fall into a few categories: physiological, mental, neurological, and behavioral. Coping with these changes and keeping your parent happy and safe requires careful consideration.
Tips for helping with physical changes in aging
As people age, they tend to develop movement issues and become physically weaker. Their bones, skin, and internal organs become more prone to injury over time. Things they used to shrug off are now severe medical threats, such as falls or the flu. The increased risk of these events may exacerbate any medical issues they already have. As a result, they will need more attentive and regular medical care.
Loved ones must consider these limitations moving forward. Doing so can be difficult, especially if the older adult was particularly active when they were younger. You can make their living space safer by taking the following steps:
- Put up ramps if necessary.
- Keep essential items within reach without straining.
- Use an alert system in case of falls.
- Declutter walking spaces and remove trip hazards to decrease the likelihood of falls.
Tips for helping with mental changes in aging
As a person ages, many develop some degree of cognitive decline. They may have difficulties remembering or learning new information. These cognitive changes can make keeping up with appointments difficult, for example. Keeping track of items can also become harder, so older people are more likely to misplace things like keys and phones.
If your loved one experiences short-term memory loss, you can help in multiple ways:
- Set up notes and reminders. You can set aside large, visible spaces to place important items where the older adult can routinely store them. Doing so can save both parties time and frustration.
- With their permission, consider using location devices on keys and wallets or utilizing technology features on a smartphone, such as various “find my phone” apps.
Mental processing becomes slower when people get older. They may take more time during conversations or figuring out details like restaurant tips. If your loved one experiences this, try to be patient. It is likely just as frustrating for them.
While most people experience changes like this, some people experience much more severe memory loss and cognitive decline than others. This is called dementia. Many conditions like Alzheimer’s disease or stroke cause or worsen dementia. If your loved one develops dementia, they will most likely need professional care at some point.
Tips for helping with behavior changes in aging
Aging also affects how people behave. A person who is getting older might start acting differently, sometimes in unexpected ways. They may repeat themselves more or have new difficulties following conversations. Sometimes, people develop new attitudes toward objects as they get older.
Other people become distant or have personality changes, like becoming newly irritable or very agreeable. It can seem like they have become someone else entirely. If your loved one starts acting differently as they age, giving them space to do so is important if they are not hurting themselves or someone else. But — if they are hurtful or put themselves in harm’s way, you may need to discuss this with them and their care team.
Adjusting to support an aging loved one
It can be difficult to see all these changes in someone you love. It can be even more difficult adapting to them. Many caregivers may feel they do not have enough time or that their feelings do not matter. But, there are ways to help care for yourself so you can better help them thrive as they age. Doing so means you may need to make adjustments to your own lifestyle. The three main considerations involve time, finances, and emotional well-being.
You will likely need to set aside more time for your loved one as they age. They might need help remembering or getting to appointments, or they may just need company. This can be hard if you already have a busy life. Having another family member on standby can help, but this is not always possible.
If you are the only available caregiver, you can look into professional care. “Aging in place” is the concept that involves an older person aging in their own home with supportive care. Home care services and products can help the older person age in place, and they can help alleviate some of the caregiver’s obligations. Moving to a senior living community is another option if that isn’t feasible. Communities that provide support services to residents include assisted living, nursing homes, and continuing care retirement communities.
Medical costs and changes in living arrangements come at a cost. While many older people have resources like retirement and social security, this only goes so far. Careful financial planning goes a long way, but you will likely need more help as your loved one ages. It is best to start talking with them early so they can actively participate in such planning. If needed, consider looking into a financial advisor. Fortunately, there are resources to help pay for senior care.
Making these adjustments and watching the aging process itself can be emotionally difficult. While the needs of your aging loved one are important, you cannot take care of others if you do not take care of yourself. Therefore, self-care is essential. If you become a caregiver for your aging loved one, it’s important to be aware of and prevent caregiver burnout.
When possible, try to prioritize quality self-care. This could mean doing an activity you love or squeezing a nap between appointments. Finding others in your situation is worthwhile, whether friends or a support group. Counseling from a trained professional is also a good idea. By building your support network and resilience, you can provide the best possible care for your loved one as they age.