Mature Lifestyles in Delaware: Coping With Aging Parents
A guide to helping those who’ve always helped you.
Today’s menu includes waffles, sandwiches and pancakes. Waffles are those positioned between their grown or growing children and their parents. Sandwiches are much nicer, particularly if the filling includes a variety of ingredients, such as other family members, friends and even neighbors. Pancakes? Well, they may be a little flattened, depending on the situation. It isn’t unusual to find one person, whether child, spouse or sibling, caring for a senior without assistance or respite. It isn’t hard to imagine why that person would come to feel overwhelmed, depressed or, in some cases, resentful.
Delaware has a population of 897,939, according to the 2010 Census. Those over the age of 65 account for more than 14 percent, making for a grand total of 129,277. With the growth and proliferation of services for seniors and their caretakers in the past 10 years, it appears that the intent is to keep seniors independent as long as possible, postponing or avoiding placement in less-than-cost-effective nursing homes.
What’s most remarkable about senior centers is the staff: the administrators, directors and coordinators. Employees are upbeat and involved. As a group, they profess a real liking for their jobs.
Suggestions for coping with seniors
Don’t treat your parents or other seniors like kids.
They’re not. Their views on life are based on extensive life experiences and they may well resent “good advice,” no matter how well-intended. Avoid getting into confrontations, even if what’s being recommended is beneficial. Cajoling, enticement, even bribery are acceptable substitutes for issuing directives.
One woman accompanied her mother to the senior center and on day trips. When her mother became acquainted with people at the center and felt more comfortable, she went on her own.
Exercise and socializing
Perhaps noting the mistakes of past generations, the retired or soon-to-be-retiring Baby Boomers are determined to stay active as long as possible. Most senior centers offer a variety of activities, everything from tai chi to bridge, from lunches to ocean cruises. Besides, joining any of the programs gives seniors an opportunity to socialize with others with similar interests.
It’s not just Baby Boomers who are staying fit. It’s not unusual to find 70-plus seniors, some over 80, swimming, practicing yoga or walking. In one neighborhood, the “walking ladies” are famous for their brisk daily walks. Both are in their early 80s. There are likely some much younger people who couldn’t keep up with them.
It might be a good idea for caretakers to get information on the services and activities individual centers provide on a daily or weekly basis. The amount of material provided could be a little overwhelming for someone who’s not ready, for any reason, to jump into the social swim. The MMC Bulletin published by a Dover center lists daily activities, a monthly menu, special events, trips and cruises, classes, arts and crafts, brain workouts and more.
Robin Greene, site manager at the CHEER Center in Millsboro, where about 100 seniors gather daily, divides seniors into three groups. There are the “active-active,” the “moderately active” and the “barely active,” for whom socialization is the important component. That’s perfectly understandable. Just think how anyone would feel if cut off from social interaction and thrust into the role of recluse.
The bonus, of course, is that the longer seniors stay active and involved, the less hands-on care they will need from a caregiver.
In a reversal of roles, one Dover mother, at 86, is still a caregiver. She cared for her mother, brother and sister, then her husband, and now her son. She’s as active as her two knee replacements will allow. She drives on short trips, keeps house, cooks and has become, according to her daughter, a “reading monster.” Not only is her appetite for books “insatiable,” she can relate the story she’s read. The caregiver’s primary job is to help her have fun: go on longer shopping expeditions, have lunch, simply enjoy an afternoon away from routine.
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Don’t be ashamed to ask for help.
Staff members at most centers have heard and seen a lot already. They understand the pressures imposed by taking care of seniors, especially those with physical or mental disabilities. Some staff members have personally lived through the experience of caring for ailing seniors. Those who can dash into a phone booth, do a quick-change and emerge as a super-hero probably won’t need support to balance jobs, home, care-taking. Almost everybody else does.
Cindy Clark, the caregiver resource coordinator at The Modern Maturity Center in Dover, goes out of her way to meet with families who need a little help. “If you’ve had the actual experience yourself, you have a lot more patience,” she says. “It’s hard for someone who’s bogged down with family, jobs and an elderly relative to make six phone calls. I can do that for them.”
Don’t neglect yourself.
Most health experts stress the importance of maintaining balance in the caretaker’s life. Taking time to relax or to pursue hobbies—or to simply take a break from the daily routine—are necessary. Easier said than done sometimes, of course.
Penny Duncan, director of the Laurel Senior Center, says the most important thing is “keeping the joy in life.” Duncan is a good example of the maxim. She’s 67, has been with the center for 35 years, and has no plans for retirement. She’s seen the Laurel center grow to serve more than 500 members.
It’s important that the primary caregiver understands and records all information on medical issues. That may mean accompanying the senior on doctor visits and asking questions about his or her condition. It’s helpful to know about prescribed medications and their possible side effects.
Experts suggest that primary caregivers keep a written record so that everyone involved is aware of what’s happening.
One Laurel woman’s mother, who is 65 and visually impaired, was recently diagnosed with kidney failure. The new dialysis technique is a vast improvement over the old tied-to-a-machine-for-hours procedure. Since it’s a continuous process, there’s no build-up of toxins and life expectancy of patients is increased dramatically.
Just a note: Since the mother in this scenario has been depressed, her daughter bought her mother an iPod for Mother’s Day. For a woman who never used a computer before, her mother took to it immediately and loves it.
Resources for caregivers
• Find myriad pamphlets, books and videos for caregivers at libraries and senior centers.
• Support groups offer advice on dealing with practical problems.
• The Modern Maturity Center in Dover offers a “memory enhancement program” for persons with early memory loss.
• Some centers offer day care.
• Respite care is available, whether it’s part of the day-care program or arranged by providing in-home services.
Let’s end on a high note. One woman in Dover, almost 90, lives with her daughter and son-in-law. Fortunately, they’ve always had a loving, respectful relationship. The woman said she thinks of them as “Thelma and Louise” copycats. “We never sat still,” she says. “You can’t hit a moving target, can you? Just get in the car and go.”
There are difficulties, of course. “Whatever she does, I try to laugh,” she advises. “You can get through the problems if you remember the happy memories, the smiles, the laughs you had together.”
Sounds like a plan.
For more information on senior services in Delaware, contact the Division of Services for Aging and Adults with Physical Disabilities at dhss.delaware.gov/dsaapd.