As we age, often the role of caretaker has changes and now you caring of your parents instead of the other way around. As your role expands, you my encounter some resistance. It is often a difficult stage of life for aging adults and it requires compassion and understanding. Your parent may be struggling with a whole new set of fears and be unwilling or unable to communicate them.
Fear of Lack of Resources
Money has always been a complicated issue to discuss. A shrinking middle class, ravaged retirement funds, upside-down mortgages, and reaching retirement age unprepared and uncertain has many seniors feeling precarious in their life situations. Panicked about outliving their incomes, some fear they’ll never be able to stop working.
Fear of Loosing Purpose
A few months into retirement many seniors begin to feel unimportant, invisible, and even disposable. Their work defined them for a lifetime, and now that they are free, with no perceived purpose, they experience elevated levels of anxiety. This is compounded by other big changes that may be occurring, for example loss of a spouse, loss of a pet, reduced mobility, forgetfulness, the development of a serious illness, or moving from their home. It is estimated that 15 to 20% of older adults have symptoms of depression, and many of those develop anxiety disorders. Older adults also commit suicide at a higher rate than the general population and too often, people with late life depression are unlikely to seek help.
Fear of a Dementia
With the rise in awareness of age-related dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, as soon as your parent forgets to turn off a burner, put water in the coffeemaker, or call a grandchild by the right name, they’re inwardly worried. In fact, eight of ten older adults are terrified of Alzheimer’s and fear it more than stroke, heart disease, or diabetes. Well-known figures like Rosa Parks, Glenn Campbell, and Ronald Reagan, who were all diagnosed with the incurable disease, began to shine a light on its debilitating effects, which fueled the fear.
Fear of Being Alone
Naturally, as people age and they experience a loss of spouse, friends, and siblings, the fear of being alone intensifies. The effects of prolonged loneliness can include anxiety, panic attacks, depression, suicide, drug and alcohol addiction, and acute and chronic illnesses.
Fear of Dying
As your parents age they become increasingly cognizant of their mortality. Spouses, siblings, and friends begin to pass away, making their worry about the death a reality of life. At its core, the fear of death is a fear of the unknown, a fear of loss, and a fear of change. The more your parent knows about death through their own religious or philosophical traditions, or through the sciences, and the more open you are to conversations about these ideas, the more their fears can be diminished.
Ignoring these common fears will not make them go away. Talk with your parent about their fears. Though these conversations can be uncomfortable, they can also be meaningful and can help reduce their anxiety. Plus, you will likely gain a greater understanding of how your parent feel and their wishes for the remaining years of their lives.