As we age, we don’t just go through physical changes, there are many social changes that can impact our emotional well-being. Understanding what our elderly parents are going through can help us approach the situation with empathy.
Changes in Employment and Financial Status
For many, our career is part of our identity. When a person retires, and moves farther away from their career, they struggle to find the right identity and how to relate to others. I had a client who had a debilitating disease that put him in a wheelchair. Within five minutes of meeting me, he let me know that he used to be a defense attorney who owned his own practice. He wasn’t bragging, he was trying to show me that he was more than this man I am meeting who needs to be driven and is in a wheelchair. Pretty much every client I had shared what they did for work at some point, even though many were 20 years past retirement.
In addition to the loss of identity, there is also a change in financial status. They are no longer collecting a check, so there is a feeling that no matter how much is saved, it may not be enough. It can be difficult to have to take money out of their nest eggs for unplanned expenses and seeing their savings drop can be stressful. Additionally, if they have friends or family who are at the point of paying for caregiving or transportation or medical expenses, they are realizing how expensive it can be to get old, which can make them feel financially insecure.
Changes in Social Involvement
As we get older, we lose friends due to death or relocation. It can also become difficult for a group of friends or relatives to get together once they are no longer driving as they are dependent on family or friends or transportation services. I had a client who had a twin sister who lived two hours away. She used to stay with her twin at least once a month when she was able to drive. Unfortunately, after she stopped driving, they were only able to see each other once a year, even though it wasn’t a huge distance. She didn’t have family to take her to her sister and her sister’s children didn’t want to make the drive. Her sister was also caring for her husband, making it difficult for her to get away for an overnight trip.
It can be hard for our parents to make new friends, but it is important for them to maintain social connections, particularly if they moved away from their home to be closer to family. Don’t assume that a family visit once a week or a few times a month is enough social interaction. Would it be enough for you?
Changes in Roles
As we get older, we begin to lose “status.” If you were once the matriarch or patriarch who everyone consulted and they suddenly don’t need to consult you anymore, it can be jarring. If you were the one who always paid for big family restaurant dinners, but your children are now picking up the check, you can feel less important. It can also be difficult if you were the homemaker who prepared all of the family meals at gatherings and now it is difficult to do, or your daughters/daughters-in-law are hosting events or bringing meals to family functions. Finding new ways to connect or adjust their role can help the transition.
Loss of independence can pose a threat to mental and emotional well-being. The loss of independence and power is a great blow to self-esteem for those who have always taken care of themselves and others.
Just being aware of these changes can help make transitions easier for your parent. Knowing that they may feel sensitive about a topic will help you broach the subject with empathy and help you both come up with solutions to make the changes more bearable.