Addressing the needs of our aging family members

How does our senior loved ones want to be remembered?  What can we do to honor them while they yet live?  In this first installment of a series on “Addressing the needs of our aging family members”, we want to talk a little bit about the impact of aging and the people who provide support.
     Far too often, the positive affect of basic human interaction has been underestimated.  The impact of telling someone that you care can be greatly increased by showing them that you care.  We all want our loved ones to succeed in life.  Our seniors have lived and done so much over their life time.  By the time they experience not being able to participate in their own care, they have given so much.  For family members and caregivers, we are tasked with the responsibility to assure that our seniors benefit from the best care, support, social experiences, and human interaction.  It is difficult for them to accept that they are unable to do the things that they once could.  It was very difficult, for example, for my father to accept that he could no longer drive.  Being in denial does not eliminate the existence of problems.  The denial itself can act as a barrier to receiving much needed help.  Sometimes it may be difficult for the person who has accepted the role of primary caregiver to handle things on their own.  This is an optimal time to develop a network of support.  There are social workers, human service providers, clinicians, home health care providers, and a host of other people who may be willing to step in and ease the load.  There are several organizations (both secular and faith-based) who offer resources and referrals for emotional support, financial support, and information on understanding the concept of aging/ageism.
Social activities are a great way to comfort someone who is experiencing depression due to aging.
     However, we should not overlook the occasional need for behavioral/mental health services.  Mental illness presents itself in many forms and should not be taken lightly.  One serious action or reaction of someone suffering from mental illness, depression is suicide.  This is a serious subject and concerns are growing.  So much so that there are scholarly articles written about the signs, prevention, and rates among the elderly:

https://newsletter.samhsa.gov/2016/02/02/preventing-suicide-among-seniors/
http://www.todaysgeriatricmedicine.com/news/exclusive_03.shtml
http://www.suicidology.org/Portals/14/docs/Resources/FactSheets/Elderly2012.pdf
http://clevelandbanner.com/stories/suicide-and-older-adults,50153

We all want to feel relevant.  Somehow, along the way, our elderly stopped feeling relevant.  In this life, a smile goes a long way.  Taking a little time to have a brief conversation, taking out the trash, feeding the cat, picking up a few items from the grocery store without being asked, or paying a surprise visit to a grandparent or neighbor can be the difference between them having a good day or making a bad day even worse.  I challenge you to extend the courtesy of thinking about more than your own needs.  Ask a senior member of your community how they are doing, if they need anything, or if they would like to spend some time chatting over a glass of lemonade and see if that don’t make a difference.  We should all be so fortunate to be where they are one day.