aging parents how to handle their fears

My mother, at ninety years old, has many fears and each time she is hospitalized, they are like demons staring her in the face. Her first fear, and justifiably so after being hospitalized following a fall, was losing her independence. Combined with a very serious bladder infection, the result was that she was unable to drive again. This is a huge adjustment for a senior, especially one who had until then been very active.
Another fear, and again justifiable, was losing her dignity as she felt happened when she was ill in the hospital and unable to do many of the required things for herself. Being forced to be more reliant on others she felt was an extreme affront. This is very difficult for someone who has always relied on themselves and been very independent until her 87th year.
For her, fear of another fall became huge also because although she was fortunate not to have broken any bones, she was extremely afraid of a broken hip. And as most seniors further lose their independence, they fear isolation and loneliness as well. They see their friends dying around them and may wonder what is the use of living. Others may begin to fear dying themselves. As my mother said recently, she has too many things she wants to do yet. Many also fear becoming a burden on their families.
My mother fears having a stroke and being paralyzed. She said she would rather die with a massive heart attack. And since she has recently seen a friend die with cancer, she now has a fear of getting a recurrence of her cancer.
As seniors’ brains begin to work more slowly and their memory isn’t what it used to be, the fear of getting dementia or Alzheimer’s is high. My mother, like many seniors, rails against being hard of hearing but she fears losing her eyesight even more since she is an avid reader.
Many others have financial fears and concerns as to their futures and others, when it is necessary to go into an assisted living type of situation, fear giving up their possessions. There are many in this generation, because of growing up in the Great Depression, have been hoarders and value their many possessions, not wishing to give any of them up even if they have no idea what they’ve got stashed away. And others fear losing their rights and the ability to make their own decisions.
Knowing and understanding the fears our parents or grandparents have, it is up to us as adult children to help them through this difficult time. The following are some ideas which may be helpful in assisting them:
- respect how your aging parents feel - validate their feelings; - be understanding of their fears and give your support and love; - listen to what your parent is really saying - keep the lines of communication open; - help in any way possible to find solutions to their fears, i.e.: get a raised toilet seat to make getting on and off the toilet easier, get a bed rail to assist them in getting out of bed, look into daily help or if necessary, assisted living if more help is required, take them for regular doctor’s appointments, make sure that they are not isolated, ensure that their diets are nutritional and that medications are taken as required; - since falling is a serious fear, if your parent is unsteady on his/her feet, look into the need or possibility of a walker, make sure they are wearing stable shoes and hip protectors, and remove throw rugs and any other obstacles which may trip them.
My mother lives in an assisted living facility and her fears are no different than most of the other residents who also live there.