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This Festive Season

This “festive” season was certainly not as festive as we usually know it. There seems to be a veil of uncertainty and fear suspended over all our usual frivolity. As usual, I got a few telephone calls from panicked children who suddenly realised that their older parents were no longer coping. And the inevitable fear of dementia… Dementia is very real, and I am not denying the impact that it has on the lives of those living with it or their families. Yet, it must never be our first port of call. A visit to a psychiatrist who administers the Mini-Mental State Examination is NOT the route to take. I have written extensively about dementia being a diagnosis by exclusion in previous blogs. I cannot emphasise this enough. Go and read these on my blog. The COVID-19 reality is that many older people have become extremely isolated, and their usual routines of visiting friends and family, playing bridge and socialising are disrupted. Social isolation often leads to depression, and a lack of motivation to get up, get dressed, and put on the brace face for the world. I have heard many people telling me that their older relatives’ speech has deteriorated. This happens when people stop socialising…if you don’t use it, you lose it.

We all seem to be suspended in this precarious position of wanting to protect our older parents. In the process, we often do more harm than good. Whilst we might worry about their safety and well-being, it never works when we reverse the parent/child role. In fact, it causes chaos and resentment, and often totally out-of-character behaviour. Our parents are our parents – whether we are 10 or 55. That is their role, and they will never stop playing that role. We can advise, support and suggest, but the minute we take over control we run the risk of completely disempowering them. And we start causing havoc between siblings. Yes, we know best – or do we?

Every human being has the desire to be significant. For many older people, this significance often starts fading when they enter the ageist, nebulous world of old age. They simply do not enjoy the status or standing in a world that is so focused on productivity. Old patterns fuelled by unresolved issues seem to come galloping out of the closet as we age. Our insecurities are magnified and multiply in our sleepless nights. This is when the desperate clawing back to some sense of control is noticed – those really nasty remarks about our drinking/smoking/weight gain or chosen partners that slip out unexpectedly and unguarded. And they hurt like hell.

This is often the consequence of feeling vulnerable, wanting to show the world that one can still make and have an impact.

What to do?

Validate: “I can see that this is hard for you. How can we assist you to stay as independent as long as possible?” Make yourself vulnerable: “Mom, this is difficult for me. I have no idea what I have to do to support you.” Reassure: “I am worried about you being alone, but please know that I am always there if you need me.” Build-in support systems: Install a call system that is easy to use and linked to a response team, like Telecare Solutions.

Try and listen like you would listen to one of your clients, and not like you are listening to your Mom/Dad. Often it is much easier to let someone who is not a family member have this conversation, as we get caught in the emotional trap, have our buttons pushed and react instead of responding.

This time of year is notorious for family fights. Everyone is exhausted, and with COVID-19 we have a major existential crisis staring us in the face. We do not have the answers, but we can be kind. Very, very kind. Listen. Reassure. And be more kind.

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