Stability for an elder may consist of a “set” schedule without the rigors of daily life imposed on them. A normal day consists of waking up without an alarm clock, reading the newspaper, collecting the mail, talking with friends over lunch, and taking a walk. Small illnesses or chronic conditions may come and go without much disruption to this relaxed schedule.
During this time of stability (or “first station of later life”), elders and their families must be proactive and prepare for the end of this period of stability. Change is inevitable. Slow medicine means being proactive with attentive listening. Listen to your aging parents as they talk about how they spend their time, observe how their mind works, and how they view successful aging. Small clues will begin to emerge along with a deeper understanding of each other.
In Dennis McCullough’s book, “My Mother, Your Mother,” he suggests using these tactics during an elder’s time of stability.
Put Yourself in Their Shoes
Learn about aging. Can you tell the difference between the normal aging process and concerning behaviors or actions?
Discuss how decisions get made. If a doctor tells your parent that the decision is “up to him,” can you be sure that it’s time for a decision to be made? Elders need time to think about their options. If additional advice is needed, slow medicine teaches us that it is okay to ask for more time.
Evaluate Denial. Be a “quiet anchor in reality” for a parent that avoids any planning for a future involving changes to their current way of life.
Put Yourself to Work
Assess Your Parents’ Health Habits. If your aging parent does not exercise and practice healthy habits, the stability stage is the best time to begin.
Keep a Connection to Community and Other Generations. The changes of life, such as moving or the loss of old friends, can cause aging adults to lose their connection to the outside world. Organize ways to re-ignite relationships. Visit senior centers to establish connections among others in the same age group. Begin new traditions with grandchildren with weekly or monthly activities.
Establish Advance Directives. Know how your parents would like to be treated if they lose the capacity to make their own decisions. It may be quite different than you’d expect.
Anticipate Interdependency. According to McCullough, using slow medicine can help you avoid “30% of all emergency room visits” by anticipating a crisis before it happens.
Talk with Physicians and Learn About HIPAA. Be patient yet assertive when building relationships with the doctors of your aging parents. Let the staff know “who cares” and the preferred ways of communication. Patient confidentiality (HIPAA) becomes important as you expand your role as advocate for the long run.