How to Help Your Parents Age Well

It’s a dramatic role shift, one that usually happens over time (but not always) when a parent needs more care and support than the child, who is now an adult. Sure, the cycle of life is at play, but knowing that doesn’t necessarily make the situation easier. You want to do all you can to help your parents age well.

There are decisions to make about where your parents will live, and for how long. Should they downsize, stay put or move to a retirement community? And there is a delicate balance of respecting a parent’s independence while ensuring safety. Should Dad still drive? Mom’s still cooking—but is she getting the nutrition she needs?

Whether a parent decides to age at home or move to a retirement community, there’s a lot you can do to help Mom and Dad age well. We know that regular movement, staying sharp, lifelong learning and social connections contribute to a healthier lifestyle and can even help prevent the onset of diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Shoring up resources can feel overwhelming, but rest assured—you’re not alone. According to a USA Today/ABC News/Gallup Poll, 41 percent of Baby Boomers are living with a parent to help care for them. Ultimately, we want our parents to live happy, healthy lives and to cherish their golden years. There’s a lot you can do to help.

Start With a Plan

We all feel more at ease when we can anticipate what’s next, and discussing that openly with parents can ease stress about the future. Sit down with your parents and listen to their priorities:

  • Where do they hope to live as they get older?
  • What activities do they enjoy and want to continue for as long as physically possible?
  • Do they need transportation or help making this happen?
  • What is their health status today?

Essentially, find out what they want, and then build a plan that wraps them with the support to fulfill their lifestyle priorities as best as possible.

That plan may include gradual care, beginning with a safety net with home services to help with light housekeeping, transportation and medication reminders. A parent may want to make a big move, like selling the family home earlier in life so he or she can get settled in a new environment. That’s why some retired adults in their 60s and 70s choose lifestyle communities that provide independent and assisted living on the same campus. Not all retirement communities are the same, and today’s lifestyle-centered communities provide cultural, social and recreational experiences—they feel more like true communities than “retirement homes.”

The point is, begin having tough discussions early on about what’s next for parents – this way they can be active players in big decisions like where to live. Listen to their wants. Assure them you’re there to support their choices, and help them put a plan on paper to help alleviate anxiety about the future and decrease worry about the “what ifs.”

Encourage Movement

Staying active helps keep the mind and body tuned up. As we age, our metabolism slows down and we lose muscle mass. We know that a sedentary lifestyle can contribute to more doctor visits and increased risk of disease—diabetes, hypertension and heart disease, to name a few. Staying strong can help prevent injury, reduce the likelihood of slips and falls, improve energy, and maintain healthy bones and joints. The list goes on.

The good news is, you don’t need rigorous activity to reap the health benefits—movement is what matters. However aging adults choose to move, they will help delay disease.

  • Try gentle activities like tai chi and yoga.
  • Engage in low-impact exercise such as walking.
  • If pain or limited mobility is a problem, there are solutions to keep parents moving within their limits, including chair exercises and water programs.

Teach Them A New Game

You’ve heard the phrase “use it or lose it” for exercise, but the same applies to the mind. Regular mental workouts help older adults maintain cognitive function.

The Rush Memory and Aging Project showed that increased cognitive activity in older adults slowed their decline of cognitive function and decreased risk of mild cognitive impairment. In fact, active seniors (average age 80) were 2.6 times less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

  • Teach your parent a new game—one they can play with you, grandchildren, friends and other peers. Select a game that is easy to learn but takes time to master.
  • Encourage parents to join a bridge club (if they enjoy cards) that includes a social component.
  • Combine cognitive and social activities for a double win to help your parents stay sharp.

Organize Outings and Get Social

Staying connected is critical for aging parents. For some parents who are newly retired, they need to find interests to replace a once rigorous work schedule so they can continue to age well. Older parents might struggle to get out and about like they used to, and feel isolated because of challenging transportation or less energy to participate in activities they once enjoyed.

Help your parents turn the page and find social outlets that suit their interests, including meeting for a lunch date, sharing coffee and listening to stories or talking about current events. Make a list of outings your parents enjoy and make a point to organize a trip out on a regular basis.

Give Yourself A Break

As you focus on ways to help your parents age well, remember to also take time for yourself. Take time for exercise, and enlist others to help with activities like transportation for parents, fixing meals or providing companionship. Prepare a list of activities you need help with so when someone asks if they can lend a hand, you can give them constructive ideas and they can feel good about contributing. Also, consider looking into programs at retirement communities that are available for members who are not residents.

Promote Smart Living Through the Ages

There’s so much you can do as the child of an aging parent to empower Mom and Dad so they can enjoy a full, rich life. Start by creating a plan that prioritizes their needs and wants, finding ways to help them stay active mentally and physically, and encouraging ongoing learning and social connections. And don’t forget to lean on active retirement resources for help.

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