How to Help Your Elderly Parents Engage?

How to Help Your Elderly Parents Engage

Is your elderly loved one unable or unwilling to pursue the activities that once brought them joy? Here’s a few tips you can use to help them re-engage.

Your mom used to love fishing, but now she complains that her hands are too unsteady to hold the fishing rod.

Your dad, who once prided himself on golfing without a cart, now seems more and more content to spend entire afternoons in his recliner.

Sound familiar?

Physical decline is a natural part of the aging process. Anybody fortunate enough to enjoy a proverbial long life will inevitably face a decline in one or more areas. For most of us, it starts slowly, and we instinctively adapt.

Over time, though, the physical changes of aging become more significant—and more complicated, because they’re combined with mental and/or emotional issues. It can get harder for elderly parents to adapt, and far more challenging for them to continue pursuing activities of daily living that bring joy and keep them happy.

What Is Adaptation and How Can It Help?

As the family caregiver, you know how difficult it is when your aging parents are no longer able or unwilling to pursue the activities that once brought them joy.

After all, you want the best quality of life possible for your loved ones, and know very well that being involved in activities that have meaning and give them pleasure boosts their quality of life. So, it’s only natural to want to help your parents re-engage in their favorite activities and hobbies, and it’s incredibly tempting to try to nudge them along in that direction. However, they are not always receptive to these changes.

Why? Because from the senior’s perspective, their limitations are insurmountable, and more often than not, they see the situation as “all or nothing.” The mom who used to love watercolor painting is thinking, “Since I can’t hold the brush the way I used to, why should I even try to paint?” For the dad who used to golf, it’s, “My hip bothers me when I walk too much, so it’s better if I sit and watch TV.” To the senior, the circumstances limiting them are very black and white.

And the result is a stalemate. As the family caregiver, you try to prod your elderly loved one to get more active. But your elderly loved one rejects your advice because they see the situation as hopeless.

Get past this by “embracing the gray.” In other words, you must realize that situations like these are not black or white. There is a middle ground, and that middle ground is made possible because of adaptation.

By “adaptation,” I mean modifying the activity so that it’s more accessible. Your elderly loved one can use adaptive measures to re-engage with their hobbies and pursue the activities they find pleasurable.

How to Help Your Aging Parent Engage in Meaningful Activities

Here’s a four-step process you can use to help your elderly loved one adapt and re-engage with the activities that once brought them joy:

Step 1: Identify activities.

What activities did your elderly parent enjoy in the past? Was it playing an instrument, reading, sewing, fishing? Make a list of all of them, but initially, focus on only one or two.

Step 2: Evaluate the obstacles.

Determine why your elderly parent can’t pursue their favorite activity anymore. What’s getting in the way? Figure out if the obstacles are:

  • Physical (limited dexterity, mobility);
  • Cognitive (trouble with the complexity of the hobby, focus or memory); or
  • Emotional (depression).

Keep in mind that more than one of these factors may limit your loved one. If so, the most prominent obstacle may be that they simply don’t have the caregiver assistance they need to engage in a particular activity.

Step 3: Research ideas for adaptation.

Think about how you could adapt your elderly parent’s favorite activity to ensure that they’ll still have a positive experience, even though they’re doing things a bit differently. Is adaptive equipment all that’s required, or would the assistance of others be helpful, too?

Step 4: Create an activity schedule.

Once you’ve identified an adaptive solution, you need to make sure your elderly parent re-engages with the activity. Use a schedule, or what I call a “leisure calendar,” to keep your loved one engaging on a regular, or semi-regular, basis. Look for ways to string together a few enjoyable adapted activities so that time can be marked in more meaningful ways.

At Kells Home Healthcare we have seen time and time again how adaptation can help seniors accept the aging process with more grace and ease. We are honored to have positively impacted so many lives by assisting older adults to stay connected to the activities and people that matter most.

If you want to help your elderly parent re-engage with their world, I encourage you to identify the one or two activities they used to enjoy. Then, reach out to other family members or a third-party professional like Kells Home Healthcare to help you brainstorm practical ways to adapt that activity and make it more accessible for your loved one.

Adaptation will help your elderly parent stay engaged with meaningful activities they care about, and that in turn, will help them maintain a positive outlook and a healthy sense of well-being.

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