Change in general is intimidating and induces fear, but changes to your own body and personal circumstances can be even scarier. This is why aging can be so scary. As we get older, there are a lot of changes and unknowns that come up that we have to try to sort out. It’s even worse if we have to do it alone. For this reason, it’s important to try to understand your aging parents so that you can offer them the support they need. One of the keys to doing so is understanding what scares them about aging. Because your parents may not be open to talking about their fears with you, here is a list of some of the top fears of aging to help you understand your aging parents and start a discussion with them about their fears.
Aging Fear #1: Losing Independence
Independence is something we strive for our whole lives. When we are children, we are taught to do things for ourselves so that we can become independent adults. In adulthood, we pride ourselves on being able to take care of and provide for ourselves and others. Because we have worked so hard to gain independence over the years, losing that independence is one of the biggest fears of aging. As parents age, they start to see their independence slowly decrease as their physical and mental abilities change.
It is important to try to let your parents maintain as much of their independence as possible for as long as possible. One way of letting your aging parents keep more control over their lives is by asking if you can help and offering options instead of just making decisions for them. Instead of telling your aging loved one not to change a light bulb because they might fall, ask if they would like you to check or change any light bulbs. You can also offer help in the form of a gift by printing coupons that they can redeem for work around the house or yard. This allows your aging parent to better maintain a sense of independence for a longer time.
Aging Fear #2: Deteriorating Health
Unfortunately, one of the biggest associations with age is a decline in health. As your parents age, they may see their physical health start to deteriorate. The possibility of worsening health problems is scary in and of itself, but aging parents also associate declining health with an inability to do the things they love and the loss of their independence. Because of mobility issues and other physical health issues, your aging loved one may no longer be able to safely perform daily personal care tasks or maintain their home. They may be afraid to tell you about changes in their abilities out of fear of losing their independence or their home.
To help your aging parents cope with aging and declining health, it is important that you have an open discussion with them about it. Let them know that they are not alone in their health conditions, as 91 percent of elders have at least one chronic condition, according to the Institute on Aging. It is natural that physical limitations will increase as they age. 65 percent of aging adults rely on long-term help from family and friends, and 30 percent use paid assistance. You should examine your aging loved one’s physical health so that you can figure out what they need now and will need in the future, then plan accordingly. Discuss their health care needs and possible future needs with them so that they will not have to worry about any “what-ifs.”
Aging Fear #3: Not Having Enough Money
A common fear for aging parents is running out of money, no matter how much they have saved and put aside. Your parents don’t want to end up becoming a burden for you and their other loved ones, and they often worry what will happen to them if they run short on funds. It can be difficult for parents to talk about money with their children, but it’s a topic that should be broached so that their fears can be assuaged.
Making a detailed budget with your aging parents can be helpful for reassuring them that they will be financially secure. Cover all their basic expenses first, such as food, housing, and utilities, then factor in optional expenses such as hobbies or travel. It’s also important that you incorporate savings and an emergency fund for vehicle or home repairs or other big purchases that may be needed in the future. After figuring out monthly expenses and savings, examine Medicare plans and figure out what they can afford and coverage. You should also discuss how they would like their affairs handled if they become incapacitated. Because health care costs can be a source of financial hardship, planning for possible medical emergencies in advance will help ease your aging loved one’s fear of running out of funds.
Aging Fear #4: Being Unable to Live at Home
For most aging adults, home isn’t just a house; it’s a safe haven, a storehouse of memories, a part of their identity. To many, their home is a part of who they are, and they don’t want to have to give that part of themselves up. To help reduce the stress this fear can cause, talk about it with your aging parents. Discuss options for the future, such as hiring a live-in companion, downsizing, or senior living communities such as assisted living apartments or nursing homes. Make sure this is a conversation and that you listen to your aging loved one’s opinions. Help them research their options and explore costs of different housing and senior care choices. Don’t simply demand that your aging parents move; involve them in the research and decision-making process.
Aging Fear #5: Death of Loved Ones
As your parents age, they will start losing more of their loved ones. This sad fact of life reminds them of their own mortality and creates a genuine sense of loss of relationships. They may lose relationships that they have had for years or even decades, including spousal relationships. It becomes more difficult to establish lasting relationships when we get older. This is part of the reason why most aging adults are more worried about losing a loved one than they are about their own life. They often stress over the fear of losing a caregiver as well.
To help your aging parents cope with this fear, discuss the possibility, as this makes them look at the future in a more objective manner. One of the best ways to bring up the subject can be to talk about your own mortality. Create a will and a living will and inform your parents of your wishes if you should pass away or become incapacitated. This will then open the floor for discussion about their own plans and worries about losing a spouse or other loved one.
Aging Fear #6: Losing Ability to Manage Tasks of Daily Living
Losing the ability to perform normal tasks of daily living makes aging adults feel that they are losing independence and control over their lives. Requiring help with things such as eating, bathing, and dressing can remind them that they are not as capable as they used to be. You don’t want your aging parents to think this way, so it’s important to make sure they continue to do as much as they can, even if this means a task takes twice as long compared to if you were to do it for them.
You should also encourage your aging parents to stay active both physically and mentally to lessen their dependence. Activities such as senior yoga classes can help your aging loved one build and maintain their strength and mobility. Talk with your parents about losing the ability to handle activities of daily living and let them know that while it is sad, it’s not a big deal. If it becomes too big of a problem to handle alone, help your aging loved one find a solution. There are home senior care aides that can help, or a senior care facility may be the solution they need.
Aging Fear #7: Not Being Able to Drive
Giving up their car is another act of forfeiting independence that aging adult fear having to do. Without a car, your aging parents will no longer be able to come and go as they please and instead must rely on others to take them places. Most people gain the freedom of driving as a teenager, so giving up that freedom after driving for decades can feel like a major loss. If your aging parents have gotten to the point where it is no longer safe for them to drive, you should make sure they have access to other means of reliable transportation.
When your aging loved one loses their ability to drive, talk with them about it and reassure them that it isn’t a big deal. Many communities have senior shuttles that can take your aging parents to stores, appointments, and recreational activities. Help your parents research the options available in the community and within your family to create an easy segue into life without a car. If your parents are going to use a shuttle service, you can offer to go with them the first few times until they are comfortable going alone. If your parents will be reliant on family members to drive them places, create a calendar with a clear rotation and all appointment details so that everyone involved knows who will drive them where and when.
Aging Fear #8: Feeling Lonely or Isolated
As mentioned above, it becomes more difficult to build new relationships as we age, and the loss of loved ones and relationships is inevitable. This decrease in relationships leads to increases in time spent alone and can result in feelings of being unwanted. Additionally, not being able to drive anymore further increases fears of loneliness and isolation. All of this can lead to depression in aging adults. You and your family need to establish ways to make sure your aging loved one knows they are not alone. This could mean rotating family member visits or organizing a network of friends and neighbors who regularly see your parents.
It is very important that your aging loved one regularly gets out and socializes. It can be helpful to check your local senior center or your county’s senior resources for activities and social events that your aging parents may enjoy attending. Because going to a new group or senior center can be intimidating or feel awkward, your parents might feel better about going if you go with them the first few times. A lot of senior centers go on trips to local sights and events, so look at the calendar with your aging loved ones so they can pick out a couple day trips that you can go on together. After about two trips, they should feel comfortable with the group and will be able to go without you next time. This is a great way for your aging parents to make friends with other seniors and fend off feelings of loneliness and isolation.
Aging Fear #9: Being Cared for By Strangers
We all feel most comfortable around family members and others with whom we are familiar. It can be very uncomfortable to an aging adult to have a stranger provide care for them, especially for their more intimate needs. Though it is often preferred, having a family member as your aging loved one’s primary caregiver may not always be possible. There may come a time when your aging parents will need outside help. When it does, you should carefully vet the person and make sure there will be a family member around until your aging loved one is completely comfortable being alone with them. Listen to the concerns your parents may have and pay attention to your and their instincts if something doesn’t feel right.
If you want to use a company that provides senior care service, make sure they do background checks on all their employees. If you want to hire someone independently, thoroughly check their references and get a background check. You also need to make sure that whoever you hire is a good fit for your aging parents. For the first few months, have a family member present while the aide is there so that your aging loved one can become comfortable and view them as a friend. This will take away the fear and stress of being alone with and cared for by a stranger.
Aging Fear #10: Falling or Getting Injured
Your aging parents are probably aware that they are not as steady on their feet as they used to be, and they know that if they fall or get injured then they will be unable to do things for themselves. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in three seniors has a fall each year. So, this aging fear is not irrational. You should do whatever you can to help protect your aging parents from falling, and this can be done through home remodeling or a move to an assisted living community or skilled nursing facility. A lot of the time, falls can be prevented, so install handrails and remove tripping hazards such as rugs. You should also check medications to see if any of them may cause dizziness, which could lead to falls.
Take all the precautions you can to keep your aging parents safe and put their fear at ease. Check their home. Are stairs and steps well lit? Is there clutter than can be a tripping hazard? Does the porch get icy in winter? Does the floor get slippery when wet? You can take measures to fix these hazards and prevent falls. Some preventive measures include:
- Installing handrails and grab bars next to the toilet and in the shower or tub
- Placing anti-slip strips on stairs and steps
- Reinforcing all existing handrails next to steps and stairs
- Increasing lighting in potential problem areas
- Hiring a neighbor to salt and shovel porches and walkways
Jefferson Park at Dandridge Can Help with Senior Care Needs
To understand your parents as they age, you have to understand the fears they face. When fears are not vocalized, they tend to grow bigger and worsen. This is why it’s important to discuss your aging parents’ fears with them in an informal conversation to help put their fears to rest. These discussions can help you understand why your parents feel and react the way they do, which can also in turn help you better control your reactions. When you have open discussions and understanding between you and your aging loved one, providing senior care for them will be much easier for you both.
If your aging loved one is getting to the point where they need more senior care than you can provide on your own, it may be time consider a skilled nursing facility, and Jefferson Park at Dandridge is one of the best. We are a nursing home that can provide all the senior care your aging loved one needs. In addition to long-term care services, we also provide rehabilitation and therapy services to our residents to improve quality of life and promote independence. We value our residents and take care of them like they are our own family, so you can rest assured that your aging loved one will be in good hands here. For more information about our senior care services, reach out to us at 865-397-3163 or online.