I recently had the privilege of watching and listening to Amy O’Rourke talking about caring for an ageing parent. Amy has a Masters Degree in Public Health Administration, a Masters Degree in Gerontology and she has worked with older adults for thirty years – so she is an expert in her field. She said she loves working with the ageing, and this love came through in her presentation.
Amy talked about the three main areas where carers of late life elders can change their views and lower their stress. These include
- a denial of reality,
- knowing the basic ground rules, and
- accepting the process as a lifestyle change.
She believes we live in a youth obsessed culture, impressed by anti-ageing creams, cosmetic surgeries, 80 year olds attaining University degrees and 90 year olds climbing mountains. We are afraid of death, of endings. We find it difficult to accept that our parents are growing older, getting smaller, more diminished, moving more slowly, and making shakier judgments. They are no longer the ones we can turn to for their advice and opinions, as we used to do.
Amy quoted a client who wanted her 80 year old mother to go to the gym five times a week. In reality, when questioned by Amy, the mother just wanted to go to the movies! This was a clear case of a daughter who was in denial about the stage of life her mother had reached. I related to this as I remember that as my own mother reached her 80s and became slower, and got smaller, gave up her lawn bowls and became more house bound, that I became a little angry, and sad. Not toward my mother, but generally because I felt I had lost the parent, friend and confidante that had been there for me all of my life. Once I came to terms with the reality of her steady decline, I could accept the inevitable changes that would continue to occur.
The basic ground rules include accepting that there is not a “role reversal” – Amy says this is a “Big Fat Lie”, and it should never happen that we become our parents’ parent. We should not talk to our parents as we would to a child, this makes them angry. Instead we should accept the ageing process as a new way of relating and communicating, accepting that our parents’ lives are changing and not expecting that they can “go back” to their previous active lifestyle.
Ageing is a one way transition, Amy reminds us. There is no going back, and it is a lifestyle change having the care of an older parent. She views caring for the ageing as a form of meditation – we need to slow down to the pace of an older person as it is not possible to hurry them along!
She believes caring for an ageing parent is a rare opportunity, not to be missed.
You can watch Amy’s YouTube video here.