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Caring for Parents: Their 1 Wish, 2 Worries & Their 3 Joys

As we bond with our elders, we try to understand their worries and hopes, however, learning about their unique journey is not always an easy task. We at Samarth have always hoped to acquire a comprehensive understanding of the challenges the elderly face in India.

Our research with elders threw some vital insights into the needs and expectations of various groups of elders. Apart from some expected results, we garnered several counterintuitive and striking findings that helped us define what we do and how we work with elders and their families.

“Aging is an extraordinary process whereby you become the person you always should have been.” David Bowie

Their 1 Wish

As we express concern, parents have to deal with the fact that they cannot be responsible for their physical, mental, financial, emotional, and social well-being. They see their independence  slipping away from their hands, the hands that — for decades were enough to hold the world around them together. As independence deserts them, they must deal with a sense of dignity slipping from under their feet. Isn’t that too big a loss? Independence and dignity are the sides of the same coin.

In our research, one aspect of the senior mindset distinctively stood out: It is the wish for elders to stay and be as independent as possible.This insight is instrumental in our approach to elders, impacting their days and attitudes to self and others. Their list of tasks, no matter how trivial it may appear, like physically going into a bank and getting their passbook updated– is vital to them. Independence is freeing and transformative for elders and keeps them going.  Their one sincere hope is to be independent and lead their lives with dignity.

 

The 2 Worries

In multiple polls and discussions with elders — we arrived at two primary anxieties and worries.

a)The first worry is staying healthy. As elders age, they anticipate and are anxious about the changes in their health. elders tend to spend less and less money on their needs and refrain from bettering their quality of life for fear of what the future holds. What if there are any surgeries or a fall? How will these incremental expenses see them through the rest of their life? They refrain from getting their blood work done for the fear of an unexpected disorder or disease and also the money to see through this new ailment. So they end up not going in for their check-ups and blood tests.

Research from the National Council on Aging reveals that nearly 95% of adults aged 60 and older people have at least one chronic condition, with 80% experiencing two or more.

Anxiety among elders for health stems from two implications: elders worry if they are unable to stay fit physically and mentally, they may not be able to look after themselves; this worry casts a pall of uncertainty about how life would be when things are not in control. Secondly, rising healthcare costs are a cause of concern regardless of economic stature.

b)The second major worry for elders is about managing their wealth. It manifests in several ways, depending on how well-off the senior is. Firstly, they worry their savings may not be enough to sustain them throughout their lives; the fluctuations in the cost of living may disrupt their plans and rankle elders. Depending on how wealthy elders are, their concerns stem from outliving their savings. They worry that their accumulated savings might not last their life. This worry bogs them down.

As parents age, their quality of life and worldview are different. For example, you might have noticed,  they ponder 100 times before spending money on upping their quality of life, but when it comes to their children and grandchildren – they might not think twice. So, if you ever feel disappointed that your concern for your parents meets with a sense of dismay– you are not alone.

 The worry stems from the worry of how to pass their wealth to their children, especially when a part of the wealth involves real estate. We have seen elders agonizing about these worries, and addressing them is crucial to living well after 60. They harbor dreams of leaving their children with homes regardless of their children’s desire to own and manage these homes. Parents and elders are often consumed by these worries that keep them from spending money and enjoying a certain lifestyle.

Their 3 Joys

Several things make us happy; some bring momentary happiness, like enjoying a delicious meal, and some create long-term joy. Our research overwhelmingly points towards three critical sources of joy for Indian elders. Interestingly, these are not about physical pleasure but more about social and emotional happiness.

a)The first joy is having people to talk to — not surprising. With reduced contacts and opportunities, most elders look forward to interacting with others. They look forward to meeting a friend to converse about the day or watch a cricket match alongside. A long walk with someone, a cup of tea, a pleasant conversation– all add immense value to the nature of their days. Independent studies prove that longevity and quality of life get enhanced with each additional social group that a senior becomes part of.

b)The second joy comes from places to visit; the relative reduction in mobility, health, and sometimes isolation reduces opportunities for elders to go out or to travel to places. Many elders who consciously spend time traveling are happier than those who cannot or do not. elders have shared that they derive a sense of fulfillment from pursuing the bucket list of places to travel. New experiences and cities are often on their wishlist to see the world and soak in the undiscovered hues– keep them excited.

c)This brings us to the third key source of joy, and perhaps the most important one, to continue to be needed or to have a purpose. I am sure you have known people who retired from an active job – finding something worthwhile to occupy themselves. Often, they lose not only their mental well-being but also their health.

Purpose keeps us alive in the real sense of the word; the purpose is our pillar.

Our advice to family members and elders under our care is that any support should enable the elders to do more, not take away what they can do.  Joy also comes from pursuing small everyday tasks for elders. A simple task like being accountable for the kitchen groceries and the home supplies or could be a long-term goal like converting their life journey into a memoir keeps them excited to be up and about. Elders find a purpose from carrying their tasks to completion: converting a room into a painting studio or a study or watering the plants– day and night – instills a sense of being needed.

The 1-2-3 of caring for your parents is born out of several years of work– work  that we employ to identify areas for action and have an entire tool kit with sets of actions corresponding to different situations. The formula equips us to develop and refine solutions and approaches around it.

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