Aging Parents Traveling and Trying New Things
Travel and trying new things as a senior shows a passion for life still exists. For health and life quality, this is a great thing to foster.
According to a 2017 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA): Psychiatry, having a purpose in life improves the overall health of senior citizens. Even grip strength and walking speed were improved in seniors who felt a sense of purpose and hope for their lives.
Anyone at any age and any level of activity can pursue a passion. While bucket list-items like climbing Mt. Everest may be unrealistic, reminding aging parents of their passions and early dreams is spot on, especially when it comes to helping them create a more fulfilling life.
For example, if your nature-loving mom is physically able, what about a whale-watching cruise to Alaska? Or, maybe your history-loving dad would enjoy a two-day trip to a Revolutionary War battle site? Many tour companies have short and long trips specifically geared for seniors.
The idea is to get your parent involved and engaged in life. This will help you, as the caregiver, to feel supported. You can’t be everything to your parent; it’s important they have areas of their lives separate from you.
Sadly, the incidence of depression among the elderly is high, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Too many seniors believe depression is a normal part of aging. It’s not.
Here’s the good news; finding purpose and reversing the symptoms of depression may come down to a few small adjustments in how you approach your aging senior and how your aging senior approaches this stage of his/her life.
So, what constitutes a “purpose” and how do you help your aging parent find it? The concept isn’t as daunting as it may sound. You don’t need to send mom to Haiti to build homes with a church group, unless this is on her bucket list. Her purpose may be around the corner.
The mythologist and educator Joseph Campbell said in his ground-breaking book (based on six interviews with Bill Moyers), “The Power of Myth” on finding life’s purpose:
If you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Wherever you are — if you are following your bliss, you are enjoying that refreshment, that life within you, all the time.
Start by listening and carefully considering what your parent enjoys. What makes him smile? What engages her interest? For many passions, there are activities around the corner. Quilting clubs, historical societies, book clubs, bird-watching groups are offered in every community. Often events are low or no-cost to participants.
If cost isn’t an issue and your parent is mobile, encouraging them to take a trip or join a travel club may be the way to create anticipation. Preparing for a multi-generational family trip, or a solitary excursion to a bucket list location can make a huge difference when dealing with issues like friends passing away and loneliness.
What if they resist?
Sometimes, no matter our best intentions, aging parents don’t want our advice. In this case, make sure to get a doctor’s wellness check up to rule out clinical depression or other medical condition. In cases where mobility and depression is part of the problem, go slow and lower your expectations.
Even the most introverted individuals will consider pushing the envelope if it means spending time with a loved one. Maybe, for the first few outings, you or another sibling should make plans to attend a lecture, hike, exercise class, church group, book discussion or cooking class with your parent. Sometimes reaching out of your comfort zone is easier with a family member close.
According to a Forbes.com article titled, “7 Tips to Help Beat Your Aging Parent’s Loneliness,” working on computer skills with your parent will also help them, in the long run, independently explore what activities they may enjoy.
Get support: Don’t go it alone
For parents hesitant to try new things, enlist the help of professionals. Social workers, professional caregivers, doctors, municipal departments on aging, along with local family and friends should work as a team. If taking a walking tour of Rome is on the table, great! If not, don’t lose hope.
Even folks who’ve lost the ability to drive can lead fulfilling lives; they will just need more support. And, the better your parent feels, the better you will feel. The more people involved in your parent’s care, the less pressure you will feel as a caregiver.
Most communities have free resources for the elderly in terms of activities and transportation. In some cases, it’s just a matter of making a phone call. If your parent has a home health aide, make them a part of the mission to add more activities and passion to your parent’s life.
What if you are far away?
Even if you are far away from your aging parent, influencing their activity level is still an option. Seniors requiring more care will have home health aides and maybe assisted living staff available to support you when you try to motivate some changes. Let them know your goals and ask for their input on how to achieve them.
Again, keep in mind, you don’t have to set sweeping changes in place to make an improvement in activity levels. For more challenging situations, seek support to get your parent out or involved in one simple activity for a week or two weeks. Start small, like one lecture or book club, and watch your parent’s confidence build.
No one built Rome in a day. Keep your expectations realistic and involve as many support staff, family members and friends as you are able. Asking for help may be challenging for your parent, but, as their caregiver and advocate, it’s vital you create a team of support. Like the studies show, involvement, purpose and hope will make a more fulfilling life for your parent and, ultimately, more peace-of-mind for you.
Eric S. Kim, PhD1,2; Ichiro Kawachi, MD, PhD1; Ying Chen, ScD3; et al (Oct. 2017). Journal of American Medicine: Psychiatry: “Association Between Purpose in Life and Objective Measures of Physical Function in Older Adults.” Retrieved from http:// jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapsychiatry/article-abstract/2648692 https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapsychiatry/article-abstract/2648692
Authors unknown (Date Unknown) National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH): “Older Adults and Depression: Learn the signs and find treatment.” Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/older-adults-and-depression/index.shtml
Bill Moyers; Joseph Campbell; (June 21 1988), Television Documentary Series: Ep. 1-6: Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth. Retrieved from https://billmoyers.com/content/ep-1-joseph-campbell-and-the-power-of-myth-the-hero%E2%80%99s-adventure-audio/
Bill Moyers; Joseph Campbell; Betty Sue Flowers, editor; (1988) Doubleday. The Power of Myth. hardcover: ISBN 0-385-24773-7.
Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S. (May 23 2018) Psych Central: “8 Ways to Help Your Aging Parents.” Retrieved from https://psychcentral.com/blog/8-ways-to-help-your-aging-parents/