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Twilight years

| April 25, 2010 9:00 PM

When my dad passed away several months ago, I knew my siblings and I would have to step up to help my mom transition to the next stage of her life. Specifically, living by herself, either until she herself passes away, or until she finds someone with whom she would like to share her life. This time has been marked by the significant challenge of loneliness.

However, mom has also had to learn to deal with problems, big and small, without my dad's advice or help. Had my mom passed away first, my dad would have had to deal with the loneliness as well; in addition, his other challenge would have been not having mom there to take care of him, both domestically and emotionally. It is safe to say, most long-term partners, finding themselves alone, have significant adjustments regardless of their gender.

For many of us, as we age our bodies and our mental faculties begin to fail us. My dad died of cancer, and mom has several ailments, luckily none of which has progressed to the point of being considered terminal. She has begun to be concerned a bit about her memory, but she is functioning well.

I mentioned sadness earlier, but for many in the elderly population, depression can be a silent killer. Not just taking the joy out of our remaining years, but in fact ending those years sooner than we would like. Elderly people suffering from depression will often not take care of themselves the way they should, either not eating healthy or in some cases not at all.

So what can we do to help our parents, grandparents, or even ourselves continue to adjust and even thrive during this time? First, we can realize this is a natural process and the adjustment will take time. We can ask them what they think they need and then do our best to provide that help.

Making sure nutritional needs are met can be difficult, but inviting the person over for dinner if they live nearby, encouraging them to get involved with a senior's dinner group, or church potlucks can be a step in the right direction. Similarly, emotional needs can be partially met by getting the senior in relationship with others, both their own age and younger people as well. Elderly people reading books to children, quilting blankets for people in need, or knitting hats for newborns are all chances to serve others - and as I have pointed out before, serving others is a great way for anyone to soothe their own troubles.

Keeping an active mind and body are also challenges for elderly people. Thankfully, there are now exercise classes specifically geared to elderly people who might have limited flexibility and mobility. A caregiver can find a great many classes in almost any community, from art to cooking to gardening, which will serve to keep a person's mind active, a weapon against dementia.

All of us will, hopefully, come to old age one day. How gracefully we meet it and enjoy this period of our lives is largely up to us. If you are in your twilight, or just caring for someone who is, I hope this gives you both ideas and hope to make it a beautiful sunset.

Mark Altman is a speaker and leadership consultant with the Altman Leadership Center. He is an international speaker with two books and a DVD that can be purchased on Amazon.com. He can be reached at mark@leadright.net.

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