Loving All Phases - Strategies For Accepting The Changes Through Aging
Too often, much of what is being communicated by our elderly parents and friends is overlooked or dismissed. Many a chasm has been created in relationships because someone fails to understand another, and this later phase of life is no exception.
Having spent time coaching nurses in nursing homes, I've had the opportunity to interact with the residents of these homes who are in the latter stages of their earthly existence. What I've discovered has surprised and delighted me, as well as assisted me in navigating this unfamiliar terrain within my own family.
Although most of us are aware that cognitive ability and memory undergo drastic changes as we age, we appear to be at a loss as to how to communicate during this vital time. Further observation reveals that we have a very difficult time accepting that our elderly relatives or friends are not "who they used to be". Since this can be said of anyone at any developmental phase of life (does that 10 year old resemble the 5 year old they once were?), it stands to reason that educating oneself on these developmental changes would alleviate much frustration for all involved.
Here are some things to remember when conversing with an elder:
Reminding them of what you've already told them, which they've forgotten, will not help them to remember. Instead, it can be frustrating and hurtful. It is not within their control. Even if you recognize this as a tactic they may have used when they were younger, short term memory loss is REAL and no amount of cajoling will change that.
Try this approach: Act as if it's the first time you've told them. Go along with it. There's no point in beating the proverbial dead horse.
If it's an area that truly concerns you, it's time to look at solutions for safety. For instance, a friend of mine told me of an incident where her mother took her car to the dealership for repair. When my friend called the dealership where her mother said the car was, they had no record of her ever bringing the car in. Through a series of back tracking, my friend discovered that the car had been towed to garage across the street from the bank her mother had visited that morning. This was an indication that something needs to change in the mother's environment. Firmly asserting the obvious danger in this event won't make a difference. Her mother will not retain this information, and in the process quite possibly feel admonished and diminished.
Now, let's suppose that you have some real issue with not pointing our their "mistake". It's time for you to ask yourself some questions, to determine why letting this be is hard for you
Questions to consider:
- What are you hoping to express by drawing attention to a memory issue?
- Is this a habitual way of interacting that you can reframe?
- Are you responding to the situation or reacting?
- Is your reaction emanating from the present situation, or from the past?
- How can you address your need to be heard when dealing with someone incapable of retaining information?
And here's a news flash: Just because aging brains are changing does not mean it's all downhill . A study by psychologists from McMaster University have determined that older people appear to be better and faster at grasping the big picture than their younger counterparts. Instead of viewing aging as something to be avoided, it's helpful to recognize that each stage has it's benefits. Admittedly, our culture does not promote aging as the wonderful, natural process that it is, so it's no surprise that we have come to dread this time of life.
However, let me leave you with a challenge. The next time you are spending time with an aging acquaintance, look for the beauty that is there. Marvel at the shape the body has taken, the sparkle the eyes might display, the uninhibited mindset and the vast knowledge housed in the intellect. Though it may be disseminated differently than you are accustomed to, honor this phase of life as you do all others. There's magic everywhere if we choose to see it.
Natalie Tucker Miller, IAC-CC, is an internationally recognized certified coach, instructor and coach certifier. She is the founder of UnParenting.com, a company that works with parents who are looking for alternative ways to relate, educate and/or communicate with their families, their business associates and the world. Ageless-Sages Press encourages reading to the elderly, a company that Natalie founded with her daughter, Beth Ann, a writer.
As the co-founder of Celebrity Coaching Association, Natalie powerfully, yet discreetly, offers her wisdom and support to parents who are embracing the joys and challenges of raising children and/or dealing with aging parent issues with the pressure of being in the public eye. Her client list ranges from high-profile professionals to stay-at-home parents and to teachers of all grades who are seeking ways to create and sustain powerful, effective and rewarding relationships and learning environments. She is currently serving as president for the International Association of Coaching.
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