Essential Conversations with Dr. Amy: Talking to your parents about staying socially active
Many older adults who decide to remain in the family home may find their world getting smaller as the years go by. I frequently talk with older adults about the potential for the home they have thought of as their “palace” to turn into a place that becomes less and less accessible they age. A health challenge or mobility issues can make it harder to get out and enjoy the things they love to do. Difficulty driving may also make it harder to get out and socialize. And, of course, our Canadian winters can add to these challenges!
Let’s not forget that your parents’ friends may also be in a similar situation, experiencing the same challenges. For many seniors, this means they are no longer living their lives to the fullest and may become somewhat lonely and isolated. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be this way; our later years can be fun and fulfilling.
Taking the First Step: A Conversation with Your Parents
As an adult child, you may find yourself wondering how to talk with your aging parents about your concerns that they are not living as active and fulfilling a life as they used to. Sometimes older adults don’t even recognize how small their worlds have become, as it often happens gradually. Truth is, adult children can struggle with having these types of conversations with aging parents. Our parents may feel we are interfering in their lives, and we may feel our parents aren’t being reasonable. Everyone may end up feeling frustrated and no one may really feel heard and understood.
What are effective guidelines for talking to seniors about staying socially active?
The good news is that you can have effective and harmonious conversations with aging parents by following a few simple guidelines:
Acknowledge emotions: Conversations have emotional and practical aspects. Begin by mentally stepping into your parents’ shoes and approaching the conversation from their perspective. You might say, for example, “I know you want to stay independent and active, and I want you to know I want that for you, too. That’s what I’d like to talk with you about.”
Share your observations: Continue the conversation by gently sharing what you have noticed about changes in their activity level or ability to socialize. Throughout the conversation, think about how you would feel if someone talked to you in the manner you are talking to your parents. You will likely find your parents more open to these types of conversations if they feel that you are willing to listen to them and their viewpoints.
Explore options together: For example, you might want to go with your parents to visit retirement residences. One of the greatest benefits of retirement homes is the connection with other residents and the social programming that is available. Yet, unless your parent has a chance to experience that, not just hear about it, it is nearly impossible for them to picture themselves living there. The familiar, even when it no longer is working well, will always feel more comfortable than an unknown alternative.
Your parent may even want to do a short term stay at a retirement residence. Participating in scheduled activities, having meals there, and meeting other residents will help your parents decide if they could feel at home in that environment. Many people are excited by how much their life expands once they move to a retirement residence. An older friend of mine told me that he and his wife felt that they “got their lives back” when they moved into a retirement community. Instead of being a bit isolated in their home and focusing on household chores—which are more time consuming and physically demanding for older adults—they started to make new friends and participate in activities they had always loved, but hadn’t been able to do when in their home.
Everyone deserves for their later years to be some of the best years of their life. And for your parents, it might just start with a conversation with you!