Are you having a difficult time in taking care of your aging parent(s)? If so you’re not alone. Many people who have aging parents come across many challenges and are unsure on how to cope. To help understand common challenges people have when taking care of aging parents and how to cope with aging parents, I have interviewed therapist Kenneth Joe Heard LPC, LCMHC , CFMHE.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
“I am a licensed clinical mental health counselor and licensed clinical hypnotherapist with a private practice in Benton, Arkansas. A large part of my practice involves forensic mental health. I am also certified by the National Board for Forensic Mental Health Evaluators. I have been either a counselor or manager in the mental health field for approximately 40 years. During approximately fifteen of those years, I was Director of Rehabilitative Services for a large State operated geriatric mental health residential facility. I am a post world war II baby boomer. My dad experienced the great depression of the 1920’s and fought for our Country in WWII. During WWII, my mother worked in a munitions factory in Texas. My dad is deceased and my mother is presently in a nursing home. Some of my fondest memories from childhood were visiting my grandparents.”
What are some challenges someone who has aging parents may experience?
“Some challenges are falls, driving difficulty, multiple doctor’s appointments, protecting them from scams, deciding when it is no longer safe for them to live alone and when it’s the right time for some type of assisted living. Another challenge is talking to your parents about their estate. If they have a will or trust that can eliminate a lot of problems. Siblings often get into feuds upon the death of a parent. How can this be avoided? In one family that I am aware of, one of the siblings convinced his mother to sign over the deeds to the estates property prior to her death. That one descendant basically ended up with the estate leaving nothing to five other siblings. Of course this has caused a lot of bitterness and families are now not talking to each other. People often get greedy at the settlement of estates and this can cause a lot of problems and challenges.”
What can someone do to help cope with having aging parents?
“Understand that as we age, we start losing friends and relatives. This brings on grief. Grief takes awhile. It can take as long as one to three years to process depending on the bond that one has with the deceased. I am constantly amazed how frequent others take the “get over it attitude”. Doing your grief work is a healing process. You wouldn’t say, “Get over it.” if a person was still limping six months after a severe leg injury would you? Understand the medical services including mental health services can help with the grieving process. Understand that people have attitudes and values that were shaped by their culture. They may not see the world in the same way that you do. A person that lived through the great depression will be more frugal, even to the point of hoarding a little. They may see mental health services only for “crazy” people and may resist treatment due to that stigma.”
What type of professional help is available for aging parents?
“Public and Private Mental Health Services, Legal, Medical/Health Care, State Office on Aging, Adult Protective Services, Office of Long Term Care, Senior Citizens Center, Meals on Wheels type programs, Assisted living and nursing centers are all examples of services available to an aging parent. “
What last advice would you like to leave for someone who is trying to cope with aging parents?
“As a person ages skills and abilities often diminish. This is often difficult for your loved one and their children to accept. A parent who was once very independent may find it difficult to give up their car keys because they are now unsafe. Another parent might no longer be able to cook. While on the one hand you do not want them to give up their independence before they need to, on the other you may find yourself in a position of needing to restrict their independence for their safety. At that time, you may need professional help such as a therapist or attorney with geriatric experience to help you make that decision. You may need to seek guardianship or power of attorney. Also if you’re loved one has dementia or early onset Alzheimer’s, place things in their environment such as pictures that would “jar” their memory. Arrange for them to have music that was popular during their youth and early adulthood. Allow them opportunities to practice their religion of choice. If your father was a hunter or sports fans, subscribe to a related magazine. Each family could make a collage of pictures and label each person with their names and tastefully decorate them on a wall in their room. Sometimes simple things such as this can really enhance their life. Also, understand it is healthy for your children to have a relationship with the grandparent. Create opportunities for your children to see their grandparents as often as possible. If you go through a divorce, do not prevent your children from having a relationship with the other parent’s parent.”
Thank you Kenneth for doing the interview on how someone can cope with aging parents. For more information on Kenneth Joe Heard or his work you can check out his website on www.kjoeheard.com.
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