Nobody worries about something they think they can fix. If a 25-year-old sprains an ankle, she’ll say not to worry about it, since she’ll heal quickly and fully. The rich man doesn’t worry when he misplaces $50. We worry when there are things out of our control, that we don’t think we have the time or the means to handle. That’s why many of our aging relatives can seem to focus on fears and anxieties. Normal fears that impact people at every age are heightened, and they are joined by new age-specific ones. For those of us who care about and for them, these worries can seem overwhelming. They don’t need to be. Helping an aging relative deal rationally with fears that are both rational and not is one of the best things you can do for them.
Help Ease The Major Fears Of Aging Loved Ones
Okay, so the top worry of older adults probably won’t come as a shocker. It’s money, the thing that has many of us tossing and turning at night. Many of our older relatives are on fixed incomes—retirement, pension, social security, and savings, and even if they have a lot, unexpected medical and care expenses, including the skyrocketing cost of prescription drugs, can throw the best-laid plans into ruin. People who never seemed to worry about money might start staying up late imagining problems, and being afraid there won’t be time to make it right.
If your loved one is worrying about finances, there are a few things you can do. One is to really take a full and comprehensive look at assets, expected revenue, and expected expenses. This can help set their mind at ease, and can prepare a reasonable budget with money laid aside for the unexpected if need be. It’s even good if your exploration reveals shortfalls, because you can now start to plan a solution. Having everything laid out is the best way to ease worries.
The 25-year-old ankle turner doesn’t worry, but for those of us getting older, each new ache and pain lasts longer, and could be a sign of something new and maybe worse. At least, that’s how many people see it. It is an understandable reaction to the natural process of aging, but the stress worrying about health causes makes things even worse. Again, it is a matter of information. The fear of something you know, even something bad, is nothing compared to what imagination and the dark can conjure up.
While middle-aged folks may wonder whether they’ll be able to function while coping with a disease or condition, the concerns of older adults tend to focus on end-of-life care. Will they be taken care of when they can no longer look after themselves? Will there be a great deal of pain and suffering at the end? Will their passing be one filled with dignity, or helpless dependence on others? Issues like this can be addressed with preventative health care as well as end-of-life planning (writing living wills and advanced directives, appointing healthcare proxies, et cetera).
When it comes to your living environment, you may worry about how you’re going to make rent or mortgage payments, move to the house of your dreams, or even how to downsize during retirement. However, older adults typically have one main concern on their mind when it comes to housing: will they be able to stay in their own homes? If so, for how long? This matters more than you might think: it is a matter of dignity, or independence, and of their sense of self. Being able to have a healthy and comfortable living environment that is familiar, that is home, really matters.
However, there may be resources for older adults right in your own community that you’re not even aware of. They can be worth exploring if your loved one needs help with things like self-care, transportation, medication pickup, light housekeeping, cooking, and similar tasks.
Decrease anxiety by taking decisive action
The most important thing you can do to decrease anxiety in your loved one is take firm, decisive action. This doesn’t mean you have to tackle all their major worries at once. Instead, it’s about taking concrete steps (small at first, if necessary) to alleviate their concerns.
Schedule an appointment with a financial planner or attorney to get their monetary or legal affairs in order. Have them get a checkup from their doctor to ensure their health is maintained, and any pain they have is managed. Call a home health agency and begin discussing affordable options for home care so that your loved one can remain in the house they love. Whatever you do, don’t let worries sit and fester—face them with your loved one together.
If you are unsure of how to best help an aging loved one, the trained and compassionate staff at the Institute on Aging is here to help you make that decision and gain the best in at-home care for older adults. Contact us to find out more.