If you are at midlife or younger, you need to start thinking about your aging mom, and how you can help her (and you) stay younger and healthier longer.
This is important. The quality of your own “golden years” will depend on the quality of your mom’s life. Whatever you can do to help her stay mentally and physically strong and flexible will pay huge dividends for her, for you, and your family. (Preserving the quality of life of your dad is equally important, and much of what applies to mom applies to dad.)
If your mom is now in good health, and is open to change there is a lot you can do go help her stay independent and out of a nursing home down the road. Even if you think she’s doing great right now, and doesn’t need help from you, remember that aging successfully is all about preparation. Her condition today is no assurance of what she will be like in five years unless both of you prepare.
The keys to successfully helping your mom are twofold: her willingness and ability to accept change, and your understanding of what it will take to help her.
As years go by, we get comfortable with our lifestyle and change becomes increasingly difficult, so it’s important to start early while she is still aware that she needs to take an active role in controlling her aging process. If you can do that, your job will be easier, and your rewards (and hers) will be greater.
There are several important things you can do:
1. If she is not in an exercise program, buy her a membership at a gym. Buy one for yourself if needed, and go together. Maintaining strength is crucial for staying independent. It also helps avoid osteoporosis.
2. As an alternative to a gym, get her a treadmill and motivate her to use it. If you are not using a treadmill, this is a good time to invest in one and perhaps share the cost.
3. Buy her a subscription to a good newsletter that will teach her about nutrition and supplements, and encourage her to stay on the right track. If you do not subscribe to one for yourself, perhaps you could split the cost.
4. Don’t be overly solicitous for her welfare. Let her do for herself what she can and wants to do. For example, if mom wants to wash windows, telling her “You don’t have to do that anymore; I can do it for you” is not helpful. Encourage her independence. It will benefit everyone long term.
5. Help her keep her mind active. Crossword puzzles are great for you, too. If she doesn’t know how to use a computer, encourage her to sign up for a class. If she doesn’t work but would like to, knowing how to use a computer will help her get a worthwhile job that will keep her mentally sharp and physically active. It will also help her financially, and probably your family, in the long run.
6. If she is in good shape financially, encourage her to spend money on herself. Help her update her appearance and wardrobe. The better she knows she looks, the happier she will be. If she wants to get a facelift, more power to her. (Just make sure the two of you do your homework before you decide on a surgeon.) Encourage her to keep her teeth in good repair. It’s more than a matter of cosmetics; it’s a health issue if she has bleeding or infected gums or missing teeth. If she would like braces on her teeth, go for it. I had braces on my teeth when I was 69. It was a great decision. Does she want new veneers or crowns? A nice white smile will take years off her appearance.
7. Encourage her independence, even if your father is still in the picture. If she is overly dependent on him and he departs this earth unexpectedly, it will be an unnecessary burden for you and for her if she isn’t prepared to stand on her own two feet. Make certain she knows the passwords to all financial accounts, and where everything is located. It is essential she knows what he knows. If your father does most of the driving, she should be just as comfortable behind the wheel as he is, assuming both are equally capable. If she is not used to driving, and suddenly has to drive, it takes time to regain confidence.
8. If she is alone and finds a significant other, be happy for her and try not to meddle. However, if it is clear the guy is a potential threat to her health, happiness or pocketbook, then meddle. You have my permission. It’s unfortunate that many older women are willing to settle for anything just to have someone (who may not be suitable for any number of reasons) in their life. Over the prescription counter, I have heard many sad tales about loneliness, frustration, and competition for barely breathing males in the senior community.
To be fair, I’ve heard some great stories about love found late in life. But even some of the heartwarming stories have a sad ending. I recall a woman in her late seventies who became engaged. As she showed me her ring, glowing with happiness, she gushed, “I can’t believe it is possible to feel this way at my age.” Not too long after, the engagement was off because she discovered “he wasn’t the man I thought he was.” Better to find out sooner than later!
Depending on your own personal situation, you can think of other things to help your mom live happily in her golden years. Think about it now, and do what you have to do for the both of you.