Help my aging parents slow down
August 5, 2014 7:19 PM   Subscribe

Any advice on how to convince my active, aging parents to slow down a bit and find that right balance between being active and overactive?

My parents are in their mid-70s and generally in good shape; my dad regularly takes two-hour walks and does yardwork that would exhaust me. They've suffered a couple of setbacks this year (pinched nerve, cataracts) and I'm starting to think they need to slow down a bit, but not too much since it's important to stay active at their age. They have an old-school immigrant work ethic so they've never been much for hobbies or just relaxing. Any insights on how I might get them to chill out a bit?
posted by kalimotxero to Health & Fitness (24 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
haha what no don't tell them this! Geez louise, you have family members in their mid 70s who aren't constantly bitching to you about how they're falling apart and can't do the things they used to love and you want to get in the way of that!? Please just leave them be.

I say this with a dad who took up competitive cycling at age 60 and has fallen and broken so many things in the last two years that it scares the crap out of me, but he's happier than I've seen him in decades. The best I can do is lecture him about getting a new helmet every time he busts one up.

I don't know, maybe pay for them to go on a vacation or something. Don't try to police their behavior, just be happy they're so healthy!
posted by phunniemee at 7:38 PM on August 5, 2014 [99 favorites]

Encourage them to add strength training to their regular, everyday activities!
posted by cocoagirl at 7:41 PM on August 5, 2014 [8 favorites]

I concur. If you think they need to slow down, that's your problem not theirs. Nothing you've said suggests that they are being reckless or overextending themselves, so why should they change anything? When you're in that same situation, perhaps you'll make a different choice about how to live your life. But these are their lives, not yours. If and when one of them gets hurt will be plenty of time to encourage them to slow down.
posted by DrGail at 7:48 PM on August 5, 2014 [10 favorites]

My grandmother came from a huge family. They were raised on a farm and all worked constantly until they couldn't any more. And then they died. The late 70's seemed to have been the age that slowed them all down. You can help by paying attention to the chores that they complain about. With my grandmother, she fussed that she couldn't get her kitchen floor clean enough any more. It really stressed her out. It was mainly because her eyes were gone and she couldn't see what she was doing. I was too young to understand it at the time but I do wish I would have, so that I could have taken that chore from her. Basically, encourage them to stay active and over-exert on the chores that they still enjoy and just start doing the ones that they no longer want to do. They will try to stop you but, if you do it right, they will be grateful that you pushed through. Ask them to show you how they like it done and then do it exactly that way so that they can feel pride in your work ethic.
posted by myselfasme at 7:48 PM on August 5, 2014 [8 favorites]

My great grandmother once told me that her 70s were the best years of her life. Her kids were grown. Her grandkids were grown. Her friends were mostly still around. At the time she told me this, she was in her mid-90s, had cancer and diabetes and a whole host of health problems, and probably would have given anything to be like she was in her 70s. Like your parents are now.

As long as they're not harming themselves, and don't feel like they HAVE to do hours of yardwork, for example, I think you should be happy they are capable and independent. You're a good kid for looking out for them :)
posted by hepta at 7:48 PM on August 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

There's a saying - what gets worse with age gets better with exercise.
posted by lizbunny at 7:53 PM on August 5, 2014 [9 favorites]

Having a good base level of fitness will really, really help them to bounce back from injuries. I have a couple of relatives around that age who take regular fitness classes or do regular long walks, and it has seen them through recovery from injuries and surgeries that would have meant a big diminishment in quality of life for a person who was less fit. It makes a big difference, so I would encourage them to be active as long as it's not hurting them or putting them in a dangerous situation (overdoing it in the heat, for example).
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:00 PM on August 5, 2014 [8 favorites]

Are they happy? If so, then let them be.
posted by erst at 8:14 PM on August 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

First of all, it's really none of your business, and second, encouraging them to slow down is the last thing you should be doing. When people slow down, they die. Staying active, mentally and physically, is the key to living longer.
posted by MexicanYenta at 8:36 PM on August 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

I was born with cataracts and promise you that, impaired vision aside and unless one has just had surgery, there is absolutely no need to consider them a physical setback nor are they improved by taking things easy. Preemptively "slowing down" for fear of doing damage to one's body has a way of backfiring.
posted by teremala at 8:52 PM on August 5, 2014 [6 favorites]

Hmm, I have some familiarity with this general demographic. IME they do get pleasure from gardening and the like; they're not going to all of a sudden want to spend money on a spa day, and probably wouldn't enjoy it if you forced them (but try, why not). They'll chill out when they feel like it.

The thing I've noticed that does incline people (of middle and later age) to reevaluate unhealthy activities (which, no sign of that here, agree with above) is seeing friends go through health scares, which obviously will just kind of happen (or not, hopefully).

But, yup, it sounds like they're doing great, if what you've described is the worst of it. Anyone could get a pinched nerve at any age. Agree with looking at thoughtful tools and devices that accommodate pains or injuries they mention, but only when they mention them, and with their input, because it's annoying for everyone for you to spend $100 on a retractable thingy they won't use.

The one thing I might do is nag them (just a little) to attend medical check-ups if they're not inclined to go.
posted by cotton dress sock at 9:22 PM on August 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for the responses. To provide a little more detail: my father recently pinched a nerve in his back and has been going to a doctor who recommended plenty of rest. Instead, my father hasn't slowed down at all and it may be impeding his recovery. It got me to thinking about the fact that they will eventually slow down and wondering how do it on the best terms possible, both physically and mentally. I'm wondering if there's a way for them to gradually ease off certain activities rather than push themselves to the point where things break down. I certainly don't want to change who they are. They're awesome.
posted by kalimotxero at 10:11 PM on August 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

You're probably wanting to try to keep them from the kind of exertion that might cause a heart attack or, as we used to say, doing so much work that it just completely wears them out. I think your concern and appreciation for them is admirable. They probably know you love them. I agree with others, however, that they will choose their own level of activity. Maybe you can scoot in there and keep them from doing things like shoveling snow which seems to be particularly hard on a body, by doing it yourself or having it done.

As for their usual activities, gardening is therapeutic and being able to do one's housework is very satisfying. And I only wish I could take a two hour walk or ride my bike like I used to do! Help them with the strenuous stuff when they will let you and altogether be very proud of them. Spend a little time with them whenever you can and go ahead and ask the questions about family history or their childhoods and youth that you might not have asked before now. I am very happy you have them and they have you. Best to all of you.
posted by Anitanola at 10:16 PM on August 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Seeing your comment, might he respond to a sports injury analogy--put himself on the 10-day or 30-day injury list to let the thing heal rather than risk exacerbating it? Maybe talk not in terms of getting old but rather of practicing good sports medicine.
posted by Anitanola at 10:21 PM on August 5, 2014 [8 favorites]

I think you're going to have to help with the yard work. It's the activity that's more vigorous than walking and the one that may be responsible for pinching nerves. The only way you're going to get them to do less is if you do more.

Otherwise, what everyone else is saying. One of my grandmothers needs a walker. The other walks like a maniac, for miles -- I can't keep up on her after lunch "walks," which are actually more like wilderness hikes. They're the same age. One is sad, never leaves the house and says she's just waiting to die. The other is happy, active, goes out with friends at least once a week. Guess which is which?

You & your parents are fortunate that they have such good health at this age; your conceptions about them needing to slow down are really subjective, I think. If I pinched a nerve doing yard work in my 30s (likely, considering the crap shape I'm in), should I stop and "slow down" from there? 70 isn't all that old anymore, if everyone is very lucky your parents will be doing yard work for another ten years!
posted by mibo at 4:06 AM on August 6, 2014

"slow down" is what you say to old people, you're also talking about both parents not just the injured one. If you concern is your dad is ignoring medical advise, that's entirely different to wanting both your parents to "slow down". I pinched a nerve in my back and my doctor told me to take it easy - I'm 31. Tell him what my doctor told me, if you don't take it easy until it recovers, you could get permanent nerve damage. Make it about the current injury and the ignoring his doctors advice to rest. I see no reason for them to slow down in general, beyond healing the current injury.
posted by missmagenta at 4:18 AM on August 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

What you might do is spend some time with them and see where some of the pain points are. Are there some simple things that you could change to make their lives easier? For example, are there railings and grab bars on BOTH SIDES of every single step, inside and outside the house? Are there grab bars in the shower? Wh about trip hazards? Do all throw rugs have non-slip pads underneath them? All too often, these kinds of simple, affordable accessibility modifications are only put in after a fall, when having them in the first place would have kept the fall from happening.
posted by rockindata at 5:44 AM on August 6, 2014

Emphasize safety, not "slowing down". Encourage hydration and periodic, short breaks. Suggest more risky, dangerous activities be performed early in the day. Recommend physically taxing activity be performed with someone else (with a cell phone) present. Teach and encourage sound body mechanics in lifting, stooping, climbing stairs, transfers etc. Survey the house for adaptive equipment needs.
posted by klarck at 6:19 AM on August 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

If i was in my 70's and as active as you say they are, I would be scared as hell to slow down. At that age, it's pretty damned easy to succumb to inertia once you stop moving regularly.

Concern that your dad isn't allowing his body to recover is one thing, but it's a completely different concern from them being somehow "over-active". You need to talk to him about his needing to allow his body to recover so that he can continue to be active.

Telling someone in their 70's to "slow down" can sound to them like you're asking them to lay down and die.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:43 AM on August 6, 2014

Has your dad seen a physical therapist at all? My mom broke her wrist in her early-mid-60s and physical therapy was super important in her recovery. They gave her exercises to do to maximize recovery of mobility etc, and they also told her when she was doing too much and what exactly she should be scaling back on. Physical therapists have great "you're doing too much! stop that!" lecturing skills, but also won't go encouraging someone to just stop being active; instead, they'll offer alternative activities or will outlaw only the particular movements/tasks that are really the problem. Helping people of all ages to recover well from injuries is their thing. Sounds like your dad could really benefit from seeing one.
posted by snorkmaiden at 8:01 AM on August 6, 2014

my father recently pinched a nerve in his back and has been going to a doctor who recommended plenty of rest. Instead, my father hasn't slowed down at all and it may be impeding his recovery.

I'm in my 70s and find exercise the very best cure for pinched-nerve back pain. Not all doctors agree that rest is best. I had sciatic nerve pain pretty badly, which lingered for years. I exercise regularly now, as warm-up for Tai Chi, and the pain is gone. OK, this was just another anecdote, but as an old person I'd say please encourage activity not deter it!
posted by anadem at 11:28 AM on August 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

My mother said this when I told her that my mother-in-law doesn't take care of her health: "You can't make someone do the right thing." My psychiatrist said the same thing to me when I was frustrated that another family member was doing risky stuff. I repeat it to myself from time to time when I feel exasperated about people not doing what I think they should. I do call it "minding my own business," but that's sort of tongue-in-cheek; really, I'm reminding myself that my responsibility goes only so far, and that I don't have control over a lot of things that matter to me.
posted by wryly at 12:14 PM on August 6, 2014

If I even make it to 70 I'll be damn pleased with myself if I can still take 2 hour walks and do gardening.
posted by turbid dahlia at 3:42 PM on August 6, 2014

Having spent 15 years dealing with chronic back pain, if he's feeling good enough to walk, encourage him! Or just leave him alone about it, since it sounds like he's doing fine on his own.
posted by Lexica at 7:50 PM on August 6, 2014

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