September 29, 2010

USA: Three Secrets of Caring For Aging Parents: Hugs, Humor and Attention

NEW YORK, NY / Forbes Magazine / Blogs / Aging Parents / September 29, 2010

Three Secrets of Caring For Aging Parents:
Hugs, Humor and Attention

By Carolyn Rosenblatt

As a nursing student, my first summer job was taking care of an older lady at her home. My employer was her daughter, who had taken her mom in to live with her. The mom didn’t speak, except for a rare “yes” or “no”. She had had a significant stroke which took away her ability to talk. My job as a home care worker was to read to her (the Bible only), help her to the bathroom, walk her a short distance outside in her walker, and get her in and out of bed. She had a wheelchair. I kept her company and did small chores while her daughter was away from the house.

Although I was a young nursing student, I had already learned a few important things about older people: touch is so very important, and humor can lift the spirits. And, you never know the power of gentle attention. Though my patient could not talk, she could still smile. I found ways to get her to do that every day.

I worked at it like it was a full on mission. Whenever I had to put my arms around her to help her get out of bed or to do anything, I gave her a little squeeze and said “free hug!” She actually chuckled. It was part of our ritual.

The summer passed quickly. As it grew near the end, and time to return to school, I prepared her day by day for my departure. On the last day, I took her hands and said goodbye and told her how much I had enjoyed taking care of her. This little, white-haired, non-speaking frail lady looked at me and said, to my astonishment “I don’t know how I’ll ever get on without you”. It was an unforgettable moment! Her daughter was stunned and told the whole family about her Mom uttering a whole sentence.

To this day, I get a tear in my eye remembering how the near miracle of a person who couldn’t speak happened when she wanted to say “thank you”. The power of human contact to our aging parents is often underestimated.

I discovered that a tiny bit of affection added to the care of an individual every day had made a difference in the life of this precious person. If the frail, quiet woman I describe here sounds anything like your aging parent or other loved one, let’s remember that sometimes the very simplest things can lift their spirits in ways we don’t even recognize.

Remember these three tips about aging parents:

• Touch them. Hug them.
When vision is poor, and hearing is imperfect, touch makes up for what these senses may lack. Use touch to communicate better. Hugs are something everyone needs to one degree or another.

 • Attention. Let them have your attention, even if you think they don’t appreciate you. The last part of our parents’ lives is the remaining opportunity we have to make a difference.

• Humor. Use humor to lighten their spirits. Everyone needs to smile each day, and laughing is even better. If your relationship with your aging parent is something you’d like to improve, there’s help out there to figure out how to make it better. And, if you can have the feeling I had when that little sweet lady spoke to me for the first time, I wish it for you a thousand times over.

2010 LLC™

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