Thursday, March 21, 2013

What Love Language Does Your Elderly Parent Speak?

Know how to express love so your elderly parent can receive it.

What Love Language does your elderly parent speak?

There has been a lot of talk about understanding different ways of communicating love since Gary Chapman came out with his book, “Five Love Languages.”  Dr. Chapman’s concept is that people generally have a primary and preferred way of expressing and comprehending love.  Knowing how your loved one perceives love is important to getting your love message across so it is actually received. 

Take that idea and apply it to relationships between grown children and their aging parents.  Typically as parents age there tends to be a lot of strain on their relationships with their adult children.  The aging parent may feel embarrassed, depressed or frustrated by having to depend on their children for assistance and care.  Grown children often experience a sense of loss as they see a parent age and become frail.  Caregiving demands coupled with the role reversal of parent and child all cause relationship tension.  It can be very helpful to understand how to communicate love and affection to an elderly parent that transcends even the most trying of circumstances.

What are the 5 Love Languages?

Words of Affirmation - This language uses words to affirm people.  Some elderly parents need to hear the words, “I love you,” as well as other verbal reassurances of appreciation and encouragement.  Seniors who crave words of love will not get the message just through gifts, hugs and time spent together.  They need to actually hear kind and encouraging words.  Verbal cues are important, so negative words, comments or a sharp tone of voice will hurt deeply and need to be avoided.

Quality Time - This language is all about giving the other person your undivided and focused attention. An aging parent who prefers this mode of receiving love wants time together, without distractions. Turn off the phone and the TV and spend real time together talking. Maintain eye contact and focus on actively listening. Your loved one will feel truly special and loved.


Receiving Gifts - For some people, what makes them feel most loved is to receive a gift.This does not mean that your loved one is out to gather up material positions, but rather they appreciate the thought behind the gift, whether it is large or small, expensive or free. Gift giving shows you put effort into knowing your loved one’s tastes and desires.  Careful though, missing a birthday or anniversary or giving a thoughtless gift can be disastrous to the one who values this gesture of love.

Acts of Service - For these people actions speak louder than words. Commonly the love language of men and caregivers, this expression of love seeks to please by serving. Aging parents who speak this language of love will understand the dedication and assistance as acts of love and will be especially appreciative for the help. Broken promises or laziness will be interpreted as their desires do not matter.

Physical Touch – For some people, physical touch is how love is expressed. Hugs, pats on the back, holding hands all show concern, care and love. Elderly often suffer from not being touched enough and so respond gratefully to any demonstration of physical tenderness from their grown children. Neglect to touch or rough handling would be considered unforgivable, so gentle hands go a long way in expressing love.


How to recognize your aging parent’s love language:

We all use a mix of these love languages in our relationships, but according to Dr. Chapman there is one dominant form of love expression that most will gravitate towards.  To understand your aging parent’s preferred love language, think back to how they related to you during childhood for clues.  If mom was quick with a hug and a kiss, then she may be a speaker of the Love Language of Physical Touch.  If dad rarely said, “I love you,” but spent a lot of time playing ball with you, he might best respond to the Love Language of Quality Time.  Once identified, knowing which love language your aging parent responds to can be used to strengthen your relationship as well as make the sometimes difficult transitions of aging a little easier.

“The 5 Love Languages Explained” Taken from on 3/21/13.
“The 5 Love Languages” by Dr. Gary Chapmen. on 3/21/13.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Dealing with the Difficult Elderly

There are bound to be some challenges when providing care for an elderly loved one.

Personal Experience

When my husband’s grandmother moved in I knew there were bound to be some challenges.  She spoke no English and communicating with her in my elementary level Greek was difficult.  Yet I was determined to show compassion, include her in the family and provide whatever care she needed.  Everyone said she had always had a difficult personality, but I was not at all prepared for the ordeal which I had just signed up for.  At 94 she proved to be as wilful, manipulative and mean tempered as a child going through the “terrible twos”.   I had often wished I could give her a time-out or send her to her room. Not knowing why she was acting out or how to handle her caused troubles throughout the household and was devastating to me as her caregiver.  
There are times when caring for a difficult elder feels impossible.  Elderly loved ones may feel embarrassed, frustrated and depressed when their physical limitations force them to rely on a grown child or family member for care. Their dependence and sense of helplessness can lead to a feelings of despair and resentment which expresses itself in negative behaviour.  Knowing what can be done to help the situation and what will have to be endured with lots of loving patience, can make a difference in the caregiver’s ability to provide care long term.  

Looking for the cause

When dealing with a grumpy grandma or grandpa it is important to find if there is an underlying reason for their complaints and crankiness.  If anger and negativity are relatively new personality traits there may be external causes which need to be addressed.

·         Medications Certain medications can cause personality changes.  Antidepressants, anti-seizure medications, blood pressure and anti-inflammatory medications can all cause behavior issues if not matched and adjusted correctly to the individual.  Also a combination of different types of medications can play a role in behavioral problems.  Always have a pharmacist check for interaction problems when dealing with your loved one’s medications.
·         InfectionsBladder infections (UTI) are common among the elderly and can cause trouble physically and behaviorally.  An onset of out of character behavior can often be traced back to a physical infection and should be treated medically.

·         PainChronic pain makes everyone feel a bit cranky and often an elder will try to bear the pain and forego seeing a doctor.  Being stoic about pain isn’t always the same as suffering in silence and often the elder doesn’t see the connection between his pain and a general crabby attitude.  Getting proper medical help for pain management will go a long way in helping with behavioral issues.

·         DementiaMemory loss is frustrating to those suffering with dementia and can cause unusual behavior.  People with dementia are often unable to mask negative aspect of their personality and will say and do socially unacceptable things. In addition, there are many types of dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Sundowners Syndrome and Pick’s disease, which are marked by dramatic personality changes and rather aggressive behavior.   
In some cases, such as with my husband’s grandmother, a life-long habit of being difficult means behavior becomes increasingly impossible as aging issues come into play.  Ingrained difficult behavior that was somewhat kept in check for years, with age cannot be hidden or masked.  Add into the mix a bit of dementia and behavior can become unreasonable, irrational and aggressive.

It is important to recognize that ingrained negative behavior is not likely to change at an advanced age.  According to Jacqueline Marcell, author of “Elder Rage”, in cases where dysfunctional behavior is compounded by age, the best thing a family caregiver can do is to develop an “emotional shield”.   By letting hurtful words and irrational deeds bounce off, caregivers protects themselves from the stress of caring for loved ones who are not behaving in a loving manner.  She also advises getting help from support groups.  Having support from those who going through similar situations can help a caregiver cope and knowing you are not alone can be a source of comfort.

Getting help

Equally important is getting respite.  Caregivers, especially those with difficult elders, need to take break to rest and relax.  There are many community services and home health agencies available to help with providing occasional, temporary or even round the clock respite care.  Often having a professional caregiver come into a difficult situation can break a pattern of negative behavior and is beneficial to everyone involved. 

Providing loving kindness to our elders is the right thing to do, even when behavior issues make it difficult.  Knowing what can be done to help the situation and what, unfortunately, must be tolerated helps caregivers keep things in perspective.


“How to Deal with an Elder Who Complains Too Much” by Carol Bradley Bursack, Retrieved 7/9/12.
 “I love My Mother, But I don’t Like Her” by Jacqueline Marcell, Retrieved 7/9/12.
“5 Success Tips with Difficult Aging Parents” by Carolyn Rosenblatt, Retrieved 7/9/12.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Aging Fearlessly

Aging gracefully requires a good measure of courage

We have all heard the old adage about aging gracefully.  It implies an acceptance of the facts of aging and going gently with the flow of the passing years.  It means forgoing the struggling to appear and behave unrealistically and ridiculously younger than one’s age.  There is a certain beauty about aging gracefully. The ability to live life with poise, dignity and few regrets is an amazing blessing. Yet a passive bow to the passing of time, as graceful as that might be, is not enough.  There is also need for today’s elderly to face the future fearlessly.
Aging is not for sissies.  It is fearful business watching oneself and loved ones succumb to the ravages of time.  Weakness, fatigue and loss of abilities to cope with the little tasks of life are often combined with the fear of becoming dependant and a burden on family and friends. Illness and disability surround the elderly and the awful specter of dementia lurks in the shadows of many elder’s worries. There are no guarantees as we age, and as many older people will attest, life has a way of dealing all of us some difficult blows.  It takes great courage to grow old. To be able to rise above the uncertainties of life and face the future with boldness is fearless aging.
How do the elderly face the future fearlessly? Those with courageous attitudes often know that age isn’t just a number.  Chronological age is based on the number of years since birth and is what most people think of as their age.  Yet as a person ages their focus on the numbers may not be helpful.  Functional age is based on how the body functions and can be a better measure of age if an elder is in good physical condition. Subjective age is the best measure of all, because it can be controlled.  Subjective Age is all about frame of mind and attitude and is the age the fearless focus on.
Looking at how the fearless age, there are some common tips used by the most courageous elderly. 
·         Age with attitude – Abe Lincoln once said, “People are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.”  We cannot change the past or control the future.  We cannot change others but we can choose our attitudes. Attitude plays a major role in how people view their situation and how they feel psychologically and physically.  Choose to be happy and content in today.  A positive point of view affects every aspect of life and empowers the aging with courage.
·         Take care of business – There are a lot of decisions to be made about aging.  Beyond health care and finances, there is the business of settling estates and death to deal with. Take care of each decision ahead of time and reduce the stress of growing older for yourself and your family.  Get all the business of aging organized and let your family know your plans and where to find the paperwork.
·         Get busy – Retired does not mean inactive.  There is a lot of work involved with remaining a healthy elder.  Exercise of the mind and body should become the new employment of the elderly and it needs to be taken as seriously as any career move ever made.  Being actively employed with physical exercise and brain stimulation can make the all the difference in the quality of life for the aging.
·         Invest in the future – Pass on your wisdom and values to the next generation by spending your time and energy with your children and grandchildren.  The legacy of your principles is a gift you pass on to the future which will affect generations to come. 
Aging fearlessly takes a lot of effort and positive mental outlook.  Many times it requires choosing thought patterns and behaviour quite the opposite of how one feels.  Elders who exhibit such courage set the example for all of us and are truly heroic.

“Aging Gracefully” Retrieved from on 12/15/12.
“Four Ways to Age Fearlessly” by Gay Edelman.  Retrieved from on 12/15/12/
"12 Step Plan for Graceful Aging” Retrieved from on 12/15/12.
Quotes by Abraham Lincoln.  Retrieved from on 12/27/12.