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Kupuna Transitions

Spring Break and Easter are coming up – a time when families from near and far get together and reconnect. I personally love the excitement that swirls around in my stomach when I know I’ll have some focused time with family.

As you reconnect with older family members, you may notice some changes from the last time you’ve seen them as they move through the aging process.

Though my parents are relatively young, I notice they need a bit more rest between outings or playful interactions with my 5-year-old daughter. Just as I see my mother so thoughtfully assisting her own parents with their physical and cognitive challenges, I know that relatively soon, I too will be assisting my own mom and dad if they should require my help.

Navigating the aging role-reversal

Dealing with the changing roles of aging parents is not easy. Go easy on yourself if you feel short-tempered or frustrated with them – it is a change for you as well to move from the role of child to caregiver. Even for me, a professional with more than 20 years experience, it is difficult. When I attempted to care for my own Grandma, my father’s mother, I thought I would do it with ease and grace, but I fell very short—especially in her eyes.

All of my training and years of experience in caring for older adults did not seem to help me one bit when my Grandma was blaming me for stealing her misplaced muffin pan, or when she argued about whether she’d already rented a particular movie on Netflix.

“Grandma, you already ordered and watched ‘Sleepless in Seattle’!” I told her one night. “See, right here in your DVD queue? You gave it five stars!”

Recognizing changes

There are some changes to look for in aging loved ones. Before you make a visit, I suggest that you follow this tip: Check the fridge! There is a delicate line between a slightly forgetful relative, and one who is slipping into a world of memory impairment. A little bit of subtle detective work could be very important in either reassuring you that they are fine on their own, or that they may need some extra assistance.

I recently had the lovely opportunity to care for a woman as she was rehabilitating from a very recent stroke. Her caring and attentive family assured me that there was plenty of food in the fridge and freezer to prepare her a variety of meals. I went to work in the search of ingredients for dinner and found that 95 percent of the food in her fridge was expired!

Her family was very present in her life and would stop by frequently, often putting something fresh and delicious in the fridge. However, they were not checking the dates on her food and didn’t realize that, cognitively, she was not in a place to be able to maintain her meals anymore. Check the fridge!

Check the personal care supplies and make sure it looks like they are being used. Look for an excessive amount of personal notes reminding them of basic care. There are many clues in the home of a memory impaired individual that can help you see just how well they are really doing on their own.

Nobody wants to be scrutinized and questioned about every little thing, and they deserve kindness and respect whether they have memory loss or not. If you are in this new role of feeling responsible for an older loved one, please check in on their well-being with subtlety and gentleness. And for goodness sake, let them re-order, enjoy and give a five-star rating to “Sleepless in Seattle” as many times as they desire!

Until next month, let’s keep on smiling because wrinkles don’t hurt! They just make an introduction to a really good story.

Karyn Clay has a B.A. in Gerontology from SDSU and has been caring for older adults in a variety of programs for 20 years. She operates Ho’oNani Place, Waimea’s adult day care center, which she established in 2002.