Updated: Apr 12, 2018
Posted by Jim Fuller on Apr 3, 2018
One of the keys to understanding our parents as they age is to get a grasp on the things that worry them. Our parents may not talk openly about these things, but you can be assured that they think about them—a lot. A recent study conducted for the Home Instead Senior Care network identified the top 10 things seniors fear most.
Loss of independence We spend our whole lives learning to be independent and take care of ourselves. The thought of turning that responsibility over to others is frightening. Remember when you couldn't wait to turn 18 because you'd legally be independent of your parents? That independence is something we all cherish because it's the core of living life on our own terms. As parents age they begin to see this independence slowing slipping away as their cognitive or physical health deteriorates. It's important they keep as much control over their lives as possible, so always try to ask if you can help or offer options instead of making major decisions for them.
Declining health Your aging parents see their physical condition deteriorating. They wonder how much longer they’ll be able to do the things they enjoy. Declining health of course means loss of independence and is often a tough subject to talk about. Your parents may reach a point where they need daily assistance with personal care or can no longer safely maintain their home but resist help because they fear they'll lose their independence or home.
Running out of money Many seniors fear running short of funds. Even those who have been prudent and have wisely put aside funds sometimes worry that they won’t have enough. They worry about what will happen to them—and the burden it could put on their loved ones. It's often hard for seniors to talk about money but you can ease into the conversation slowly. Make sure their basic expenses are covered then gradually open the discussion to their long-term financial plans. One conversation opener is to ask how they'd like their affairs handled if they become incapacitated to broach the subject.
Not being able to live at home For most seniors, home is much more than the house they live in. It’s a place packed with memories. It’s familiar. It feels safe and it’s a huge part of their identity. Like most fears, talking about the subject will help alleviate the stress. Discuss future options such as hiring a live-in companion, downsizing, and senior housing and listen carefully to your parents' opinions. Help them research their options, explore the cost of care, and define housing options rather than demand they downsize and move.
Death of a spouse or other family member The older our parents get, the more of their friends and relatives they see passing on. In addition to being a reminder of their own mortality, there is a genuine sense of loss of relationships. It’s harder to build lasting relationships at an advanced age. Most seniors worry more about losing a loved one than they do their own death and fearing the loss of a caregiver can be extremely stressful. Discussing the possibility is the best answer because it allows your parent to look at the future more objectively.
Inability to manage their own activities of daily living Perhaps nowhere is the loss of independence so acutely felt as in the inability to perform normal acts of daily living, such as eating, dressing, and bathing. Older adults fear losing control of their lives and requiring help in these areas is an unwelcome reminder of that. It's important that your parent continue to do as much as possible even if it takes twice as long. Mental and physical activity is also vital because it lessens dependence, so look for senior yoga classes and similar activities that will help your parent build their strength.
Not being able to drive Giving up the car is a serious blow to seniors. It’s one more act of independence that they have to forfeit. They are no longer free to come and go as they please but have to depend on others. Remember the freedom you experienced the first time you got the car keys in your teenaged hands? That's the independence they fear of losing. If it's no longer safe for your parents to drive you should make sure they have reliable transportation, even if it's just for a spur of the moment Sunday drive.
Isolation or loneliness We’ve already mentioned that it’s increasingly hard to establish new relationships. And being alone increases feelings of being “unwanted.” Likewise, losing the ability to drive heightens the fear of isolation or loneliness and both can lead to depression. Whether it's rotating family member visits or a network of neighbors it's important that seniors get out and about and socialize regularly. Look for activities at the nearest senior center and check your county's senior resources for activities and social events they may enjoy.
Strangers caring for them We all generally prefer to be around familiar faces. Having a stranger provide care (especially for intimate needs) is extremely uncomfortable. While having a family member as the primary caregiver may be ideal it isn't always feasible, so if your parent needs outside help you should vet the person carefully and make sure a family member is present until you're sure your mom or dad is comfortable being alone with them. Listen carefully to any concerns your parent has and don't discount their (or your) instincts if something feels "off."
Fear of falling or getting hurt. Most seniors know that they are not as sure of foot as they once were. They know that if they fall or otherwise injure themselves that it will impact their ability to do things on their own. Ironically, the most valid fear comes in 10th in senior concerns because the Center for Disease Control (CDC) states one in three seniors has a fall each year. Many falls can be prevented so install hand rails, remove slipping hazards such as rugs, and take as many other precautions as possible. Check medications for side effects that may cause dizziness and keep on top of your parents' health.
It’s important to understand the fears our aging parents face. Often fears grow bigger when they're not vocalized so it's important to discuss them in an informal conversation. We don’t have to talk with them about these things all the time, but it can help temper our reactions when we better understand why they sometimes react the way they do.