Having spent the last 10 years experiencing her parents growing older and helping them as their health deteriorated, Brighton business owner, Tracey Allen, reflects on her experience of ageing parents.
Here Tracey offers some top tips about preparing for the ageing process of your parents.
1. De-clutter and Downsize: I can’t express strongly enough how much easier life would be if my parents had down sized whilst they were fit and well and when they were “in the mood” to make decisions about where they would like to spend their retirement. Being forced to move when you are critically ill, or alone is too stressful, too sad and too late. Try and encourage them to make a decision about downsizing sooner rather than later and then offer to help them with the process.
Luckily my parents did de-clutter their loft-space, but I have many friends who are spending their weekends going through 60 years-worth of memories and memorabilia, and that’s even before they then have to tackle the rest of the household.
2. Don’t Put Things Off: When you have an idea to do something special like a theatre trip or holiday, plan it and do it, don’t put it off. There is nothing worse than regretting that you didn’t take them somewhere to show them a favourite place or take them to meet a great friend.
3. Family Holiday: Take that last family holiday where all your siblings and grandchildren are present. Even if it is just a long weekend, spend the time and energy (presuming everyone gets along) on having that special time where great memories are made.
4. “I wish I’d spent more time with them” ….. It’s a sentence full of regret and there is nothing you can do about it once they have left us. Your parents are unique and you cannot replace them. Planning just one extra weekend a year is better than doing nothing at all. Making a few extra calls can go a long way when your parents get out less and see fewer people. A long and meaningful phone call can make all the difference to their week, less so if it’s rushed and meaningless.
5. Enjoy Their Company: This one is difficult if your parents drive you crazy, as most of us will agree they sometimes do. However, from personal experience I found a common ground with my parents and really enjoyed being with them, going out and doing stuff. I can only encourage you to do this to get to know them as adults and not just as ‘mum and dad’. You never know – you might just enjoy it!
6. Take Photos: There will come a time when you want those all-important photos, and it’s very hard when you realise you don’t have them. It is so much easier these days to take snaps of day-to-day fun which will become intrinsically important later down the line. Video is even more rewarding, especially when you can hear your lovely mum or dad chatting away casually.
7. Listen to Their Stories: There is a rich tapestry to everyone’s life and we all have stories to tell. These stories become a part of your personal history too, especially if your parents were born during the late 30s and early 40s when the country was at war. Take note of their tales as they are important, especially to your own children when they are old enough to ask you about their grandparents, which they probably will.
8. The Family Tree: Who do you think you are? Do you know? Spend an afternoon finding out who’s who and where they all came from. It gives you a great sense of belonging and may help to clear up why it is you are so attracted to certain tastes, religions or cultures.
9. Fitness: A lot of my mother’s illness is due to lack of core strength and flexibility. As someone who was brought up during the war and was a 1960s housewife, Yoga and Pilates didn’t enter her world until I was about 18-years-old. My regret is that I didn’t do more to encourage my mother to get involved in an exercise class. She would have considered herself too old, but she wasn’t, and it would be of huge benefit to her now with her lack of understanding of how her body works and pre-disposition to falls
10. Be Nice: Try to avoid a big row or argument. It could be one of the last conversations that you have so always leave on a loving note. If you can, try and nip any ill-feeling in the bud, as the stress of an argument to an older person can be very damaging to their overall sense of wellbeing. And to yours too.