One of the hardest things we have to face is watching the two people who raised us and gave us so much love, slow down and become frailer. Some are lucky, living active and healthy lives right into their eighties, others fall victim to disease or illness at a young age and watching the person you saw as strong, who would always be there, slowly shut down is an awful experience.
A lot of us are aware of dementia and it is a heartbreaking illness which isn’t even age selective. Some people can develop dementia from a very young age and it is shattering for their loved ones. However, there is another type of this illness which is less talked about, vascular dementia. It is, however, the second most common type of the illness. Caused by a lack of supply of blood to the brain. There are several types of vascular dementia but the most common is associated with stroke. A stroke happens when the blood supply to one part of the brain is suddenly cut off. A blood vessel in the brain becomes narrowed and is blocked by a clot. The clot either forms in the brain or it could have formed in the heart (see information on heart disease) then carried to the brain. Not all strokes are as severe as the next. That depends on where the blocked vessel is and whether the interruption to blood supply was temporary or permanent.
The speed in which Vascular Dementia can reduce a person to death is on average five years from the onset of the symptoms and usually is caused by another stroke or a heart attack. The patient can become impossible to deal with, hallucinating or being prone to very dramatic mood swings. This can be heartbreaking for the family and is extremely difficult to watch. Eventually, the patient will need full-time senior home care.
Cancer is another big worry and changes the lives of the whole family, not just the patient. Whilst there has been loads of research into how to slow down the process of cancer or, in some cases, cure it, it is still the biggest killer on the planet.
Finding a good care provider is vital and your specialist will guide you through the treatment steps and what to expect. They will also give you lots of resources to help support you as well as the parent suffering. They will be scared and this can be a time where you might find them pushing you away. Try not to overcrowd them but make sure you are there when they need you.
Discussing illness with children is very hard and knowing what to tell them, or when, could be difficult to settle on. There are counselors who will help you decide what is best for your children, especially teenage children. They are going through a lot of emotional changes and the loss of a grandparent can be difficult to digest, especially if they haven’t experienced death or serious illness before. Don’t shut them out and let them know what is going on and how they can help support you and your parent.
Whilst long term illness can be very difficult to watch, it does give both you and your parent time to come to terms with what is going to happen which can ensure you are prepared when they take their last breath. However, you can never be fully prepared for what this will feel like or how it will affect you, so make sure you have the right support set up in advance and ensure you use it. Do not deal with it alone, you don’t have too.
Of course, it’s not all about illness. There are lots of other things we need to be prepared for as our parents get older.
They may decide that the family home you grew up in is now too big for them to cope with and they want to downsize. If you have fond memories of their home then that can be hard to accept, so it could be worth having a family meeting to discuss the options. Support and respect their reasons for coming to this decision, they have all their memories in this home too remember! But the reality could be that they are just finding it impossible to stay. You could consider a house swap depending on your financial situation. Or if you have siblings you could discuss the option of buying the house from your parents, together. Just try not to get caught up in the romance of it. Practical solutions are often the best and when your parents eventually pass away, you will realize that the home wasn’t the bricks and mortar and the memories never lived in one place.
Mobility is something which may become an issue as we age. So it’s really important to ensure we keep fit and active throughout our whole life. It is both important for our physical and mental health. This becomes even more important as we get older. A good routine will help people feel like they have a purpose when they retire. Think about getting involved in a new sport or hobby with your mom and dad and where you can get the children involved too. Then it won’t seem like another ploy to keep them around longer!
Swimming is a fantastic, low-impact sport which can really help keep older bodies supported whilst helping to tone their muscles and keep heart health in check. It is also something that can involve the whole family turning a boring lane swim into a fun session with the grandkids. Yoga is another brilliant exercise for helping increase flexibility and ensuring there isn’t too much pressure on older bodies. There are lots of classes that focus on Yoga in older people but you can mix that up with more regular novice classes and attend together. A good excuse for a coffee and slice of cake after too.
If one of your parents has already passed away, you may be worried about the surviving parent becoming lonely. As much of a cliche as it is, considering a dog or cat may be a happy solution. Firstly, a dog requires exercise and so will encourage your parent to get up and out and keep their body moving, improving circulation and heart health. Animals are really therapeutic and are used in care homes to improve mental health and provide comfort to the residents so they certainly have a lot of positive impact. You don’t have to rush out and buy a puppy, a lovely way of getting a pet is to visit a rehoming center. There are lots of unwanted small dogs who may have lost their owner or just been unwanted. This means you will be getting something a little calmer and knowing you have made two lonely souls a little bit happier.
Finally, making sure your mom and dad have a healthy and varied diet is important. Ensuring they are eating lots of healthy fats from oily fish will improve both their heart health and their joint health. As we get older our bones can become more brittle so there should be a focus on a calcium-rich diet. Try to encourage clean eating as the benefits are very quick to see and feel, but don’t become a diet pest stopping them from having fun. You can kill people with kindness, you know? A little bit of what you love can be good for you so back off occasionally.
If you are concerned that they are finding it hard to cook, there are loads of ways you can help them. If you have time, prepare meals at home which can be reheated in the microwave. You can cook in bulk during the week and then take frozen portions to their house. This is a great way of knowing they are getting the vital nutrients they need to prolong their lives. There are often local schemes where companies will deliver to your home and online you will find special websites such as FreshFitnessFood who will tailor a menu to your needs and then deliver to your door each week. The same applies for those who love cooking but find it hard to get out to the shops. Add their weekly shop to your task list, where that isn’t possible look online for one of the many stores selling organic and healthy produce. There are loads to choose from and they are there to make life that little bit easier.
The reality of life is that we are all going to die in the end. We just hope the end is as far away as possible. Make the most of every minute you have with your parents, count. Regardless of their health be there to support them. Care for them, provide for them and love them as much as they did when you needed them. It’s your turn now. Do them proud.