Dear Carol: Our parents were always active and social, the type of people involved in everything from community events to church. Unfortunately, now that they are in their 80s, their health problems have changed that. It seems that since Mom is limited in what she can do because of eye issues and arthritis pain, Dad’s pulled back as well.
It’s true that he does a lot for Mom and he also has health concerns, so it’s possible that what they are doing is valid, but we kids aren’t sure. All three of us are very social so maybe we’re projecting, but we think that now that they can get out more, they should. Could this be depression? — BT.
Dear BT: People slowing down their social activity at a time when health issues become more challenging is common and not necessarily bad. While it’s true that one or both of your parents could be clinically depressed, it’s also possible that between their health issues and a year of pandemic shutdowns, they’ve discovered that they now enjoy a quieter life.
Allow them their autonomy, dignity and respect. Being confrontational or pushing your view aggressively is likely to create a defensive attitude and could even make them less likely to turn to you if/when they really do want your opinion or assistance.
Talk about what you are doing for fun, or if you have kids, what they are doing. Any topics that interest all of you are good. Then, from time to time, it would be natural to ask about their health, as well. The idea is not to focus solely on their health unless there is something urgent that needs addressing.
It’s nice to offer some help with specific things as long as you don’t prelude everything with “at your age, you shouldn’t (or should) be doing…” They know they are getting older, and they are making adjustments. Good for them. The idea is to remain aware but don’t be overly intrusive.
This may seem like a slow way to approach your parents, and it is. I do want to emphasize that if there are serious signs of depression or their situation seems to be deteriorating, you may have to be more assertive. However, going by your letter, it sounds as if your concern is based mostly on the fact that they’ve pulled back from what was once a very active social life.
By taking a less aggressive approach, you might even find a way to suggest that when they have their physicals they talk with their doctor about the possibility of mild depression. If you do this, reassure them by saying that many people of all ages are discussing depression now because of the stress of the pandemic.
Your comment about how outgoing you and your siblings are shows me that you have good insight, which is an incredible asset when dealing with your older parents. This bodes well for your relationship with them and their likelihood of allowing more help as needed.
Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran caregiver and an established columnist. She is also a blogger, and the author of “Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories.” Bradley Bursack hosts a website supporting caregivers and elders at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached through the contact form on her website.