Occasionally you will meet a ninety plus year old who is as mentally sharp as a chef’s paring knife and as spry as a forty year old. But this is uncommon. Most people in their nineties have either started to fade mentally or struggle to keep up physically, sometimes both. Old age catches up with each of us as we experience the inevitable decline in mental acuity and physical vigor. You may have begun to notice this in your parents. The people who raised you, provided for you, took care of you, and taught you have now entered their twilight years. What is your role in helping them age gracefully?

In this first of a three part series, we will focus on your approach. In part two we will deal with their finances and in the third installment we will cover their care needs. As a comprehensive wealth management firm we often help clients navigate these sometimes difficult waters. The approach you take toward your parents can make all the difference in helping them age gracefully.

To begin with, place a priority on open communication. Talk to your parents about your concerns and observations. Ask them to articulate their feelings and fears about aging. “Where do you still feel confident?” “Where do you need help?” “Can I take anything off your plate?” Listen carefully to their answers to your questions but also pay attention to what else they are saying. They may let you know what’s going on in more subtle ways. The Parent-Child dynamic is still in force and they may be reluctant to open up. It may take repeated attempts to get substantive answers. But their input into the changes they are experiencing is vital in helping you craft plans to help them age gracefully.

The Golden Rule (treat others the way you want to be treated) still applies. Your parents are adults and your elders. They always need to be treated with dignity and respect. Every human being has a certain amount of personal pride. This self-worth is a demonstration of their individual accomplishments in life. This should continue to be honored. There is a tendency for role reversal and to start treating parents like children because they may have done or said something childlike. Don’t fall into this trap. Remember, your goal is to help them age gracefully. Treat them as the respected parent they are.

Don’t get angry and learn to laugh. I remember my grandmother saying in exasperation “Glen, you know that,” when clearly, he no longer did. My grandfather was suffering the effects of dementia and while most family members could accept this, it was a great struggle for my grandmother. Getting mad at your parents because they no longer have the mental or physical capacities they once had does not help the situation. Instead, work at finding humor and enjoyment in the time you still have with them. My mother-in-law once turned to me and said “I just said something silly, didn’t I?” She had, and we had a good laugh over it.

If you live long enough, the effects of old age are inevitable. For some this brings on feelings of fear and dread. Instead, the approach you take toward your aging parents can make their twilight years productive and relatively stress free. You can be instrumental in helping them age gracefully.