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As we grow older, find a partner, start a family, or build our career, it is important to remember to spend time with those we love. With a busy schedule, that might involve raising our own children, or working, it can be harder to find the time to spend with our ageing parents. With the logistics of distance being a factor for many people who do not live near their parents, it isn’t only the time, but the practical factors that have to be considered.
Loneliness and isolation go hand in hand, and are public health issues that affect more than one third of adults. Social isolation can affect anyone, but affects people with existing mental health conditions, badly designed communities, and people who have experienced loss. Elderly people are some of the most likely to experience loneliness. Social isolation can affect elderly people as they often have a smaller support network of friends or lack the social aspect of a work environment. Retired people who also have health problems or reduced mobility are most likely to go through loneliness, and the problems associated with this.
Positive health outcomes in elderly people increases through social interaction, and in those who maintain interpersonal relationships. What our elderly parents need from us now, more than ever, is our time. The importance of spending quality time with our parents increases as they reach the age where they may not have a great deal of social interaction, and especially when they are the sole partner left from a marriage.
Finding ways to connect with older people is easier than you think. Often, it is just time spent in their company, talking, or doing activities together that both can enjoy. They are your parents, and you will know them better than most. However, it is very common for there to be a lack of connection, due to the passing of the years, or if you haven’t stayed in touch as much as you would have liked to. This is the reality for many people with older parents, who might want to spend time with their parents, but haven’t been able to find the time.
Make up for lost time
The power of just talking cannot be underestimated. Making elderly people feel like they are listened to and have a role in someone’s life is a wonderful thing, and can be done so easily. When parents haven’t been very present in your life, it is difficult to make that connection with them when they are older. Sometimes events occur to bring you together, and allow you to really get to know each other. In this case, you can gain an understanding of who your parents really are, now that you have grown up and matured. Seeing things from your parent’s perspective will probably be easier, without the difficulties of being a young person or teenager who is unable to communicate with your parents. It’s never too late to bond with your parents, and mend any bridges that were broken. Life is very short, and reaching out to a parent, will not be something you regret.
There are so many different types of relationships that people have with their parents. You might be able to take up where you left off, and chat about things for hours on end. If that isn’t the case, and you do find yourself stuck for ideas, then you can learn how to spend time with them. First and foremost, you have to make time, even if you have a busy schedule. They will appreciate the commitment you have made to see them, and what you do with them will not matter as much as the knowledge that you have taken time out of your day to spend with them.
Elderly people may be limited by medical conditions and the normal aches and pains of old age. This is why it isn’t practical or realistic to expect them to go out on treks or any high-impact activities. This doesn’t mean, however, that they will not enjoy going out for a walk, or a day out at a park. Exercising is beneficial to everyone involved. Exercising together will be an opportunity to keep fit while bonding. Gentle exercise is best for older joints, and yoga, swimming, or walking are suitable for almost everyone. It’s worth bearing in mind that many elderly people do not get the opportunity to spend time outdoors, often limited to their accomodation. Going outside has health benefits for everyone. From boosting mental health, and reducing anxiety, going outdoors and spending time in nature is an excellent way to enjoy the company of your parents.
Spend time with your entire family
Allowing your parents to be a part of your children’s life will give them a sense of purpose, and allow your children to share in the wisdom and experiences of their grandparents. There isn’t anything as lovely as a strong grandparent/grandchild bond, and this can have wonderful benefits for everyone involved. Having a regular family day, perhaps a Sunday afternoon, will ensure that you keep to the schedule and make a regular event of seeing family. The sense of community that comes with spending time with your extended family is beneficial not only for elderly members, but also for the entire family as a whole.
Many adults lose mobility when they get older. Conditions such as rheumatism, or stroke can severely limit their ability to join in with activities that they might have previously. When that happens it is important to help them find activities that they can do safely and comfortably. In terms of concrete ideas that you can use for occasions spent with your parents (that don’t involve too much activity) then think about indoor activities that you will both enjoy. Cooking, sharing photo albums, introducing new technology, or reading together are some ways to enjoy the indoors together. If your parents or parent has limited mobility then tailor the activity to their needs, and if needed bring someone to help you. Gentle exercise is wonderful, if your parents are able to join in, but watching their favourite T.V show, or making them a nice meal and eating with them shows them that you value their time regardless of what you do. Organizing a book club, or even birdwatching will allow them to socialse, or spend time immersed in another world, without having to take part in anything too strenuous.
If bird-watching is something that interests your parents, then consider setting up an outdoor area that they can sit in and enjoy spotting various species of birds. You can even do this indoors, if there is a large enough window. If you want to attract birds with bird feed, and products then take a look at little peckers which offer a large range of bird supplies across the U.K.
The power of memory
Reminding yourself about your childhood, is just as important as it is for your parents. Memory recall for elderly people is not as good as it is with younger people. This is why looking at scrapbooks or photographs from a time they remember will be a way to connect with them. In cases of alzheimers, or dementia, where memory suffers, looking at old photographs is both comforting, and may remind parents of times that they are familiar with. As short term memory suffers before long term memory in patients with dementia, or even age-related memory loss, it is the long term memory that will remain the longest. For example, you might find elderly people are able to recall a memory from their childhood and describe it perfectly, but will not be able to remember what they ate a few hours ago. Visual aids can help stimulate memories in people with dementia. You can make an album that is very personal to your parents, labelling key events and people to help jog their memory.
Keeping the brain active is a crucial part of elderly care. As your parents reach the age where their brains will lose some of its function, keeping them stimulated with activities that help their brains maintain their function is crucial for their overall health. Great ways to improve hand-eye coordination and stimulate the mind includes playing crosswords, (large print crosswords if needed) or even flower arranging if that is their thing.
Most of all, your parents will enjoy seeing how much you genuinely enjoy spending time with them. Finding a routine, where you spend an afternoon a week with them, will remind them that they are loved and valued. For your own children, it is important to see that elderly people are important members of society, and if you lead by example, they will also want to spend time with you as you get older.