Growing Old: There’s Still Work to Do

Senior Psychology, Senior Mental Health, Affordable Home Care, Assisted Home Care, Home Care in Minnetonka, Care Seniors, Senior Companion CareOlder adults are managing two paradoxical developmental tasks:

  1. Trying to maintain control in a world where all control is being lost.
  2. Creating a legacy in a world where time is running short.

To put it simply, they are trying to last while leaving.


1.  Maintaining Control

It is well known that as people age they experience many losses.  There are changes in health; loss of physical activity and mobility; loss of family and friends; loss of authority, identity, and ability to drive; and loss of physical surroundings (home), material possessions, and status, just to name a few.  Since one developmental task of an older adult is trying to maintain control, it is normal and expected that they will likely have to take a stand for control.  If adult children understand this, they will be better able to negotiate plans and services that will meet their needs, as well as the needs of their parents.

To assist elderly folks in maintaining their control, pay attention to how you speak to them.  Use verbs such as “you choose” or “you manage” versus saying “you have to do this” or “we are going to do this or that.”  After doing your research, if you provide good information and choices, elderly parents often can decide the best course of action for themselves.  This allows them to feel more in control and less likely to rebel against a plan for them that they were not involved in making.

2.  Creating a Legacy

There is a reason why conversations with elderly people are long and usually take a circuitous route to get to the point.  Unless they have cognitive impairment of some type, their minds are intact and actually change over time to accommodate the task of reflection that is part of aging and coming to the end of life.  This is why they tend to get “off track” and start telling stories from the past, many of which you’ve probably heard dozens of times before!  They are reminiscing, trying to make sense of their lives, and helping you to remember them.

Creating or leaving a legacy prompts an elderly person to reflect upon the life they have lived.  Did I make a difference? What’s the meaning of my life?  What are my last instructions to my family?  Will I be remembered?  These are all important questions.  You can assist your loved ones to come to terms with these questions by being mindful of the questions you choose to ask them when involved in conversation.  By asking the right questions, your loved ones will be given an opportunity to explore the unanswered questions that they have a need to address before the end of their lives.  This will free them up to live out their last days or years to the fullest and perhaps will assist them to redeem themselves from past mistakes.  What a gift!

Julie Ellingson, LSW



March 16, 2012

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