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Helping Older Adults Deal With Life's Big Events

By Mary Jo DiLonardo
WebMD Medical Reference

When you’re a caregiver, you and your loved one are likely to face challenges together. Three big life changes in particular -- moving, giving up driving, and dealing with the death of a spouse -- can be emotional.

Here are some practical tips for caregivers in dealing with difficult changes.

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Moving

Older adults move for many reasons. Maybe they're downsizing from a house to a smaller condo or apartment because they don't need the space or can’t climb stairs. Or perhaps they're moving in with an adult child or making the move to skilled nursing care. There are many possibilities. It can be a stressful time.

Sorting through items -- deciding what to take and what to leave behind -- can be sad for an older person who has to deal with so many memories, says clinical psychologist Sara Honn Qualls, PhD, director of the Gerontology Center at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.

She suggests making it a move to, rather than from.

"Instead of letting go, focus on what are good things to put into that new apartment or new place. Move to a place with the items that are appropriate; then figure out what to do with everything that's left over."

Let your loved one be involved where you can, like in choosing between several apartments, condos, or assisted living communities. If a parent is moving in with you, suggest that he or she choose a paint color and decide how to arrange the furniture.

"Just because you're older doesn’t mean you don’t get to make decisions for yourself," says internist Cathy Alessi, MD, president of the American Geriatrics Society.

Giving Up Driving

Giving up the car keys can be a real blow for an older person. For many, driving keeps them active and involved in their communities. Losing this independence can lower their quality of life and lead to sadness and even depression.

Before you insist that a loved one stop driving, talk to their doctor. They can probably recommend cognitive or memory tests that will tell you if it’s time.

"It's important that you get a really clear picture of what they can and can't do," Qualls says. "If you have good data and good guidance, you know what is safe."

If the doctor thinks they are OK to drive, but you are still worried, you may want to suggest ways to take away your stress. Make a deal that they drive only during the day, for example. Make sure the car is in good shape. Suggest a senior driving class. Offer to take your loved one in for regular eye and health exams.

When someone is having problems driving, Quall says, it's a brain issue, not a muscle issue. "Typically, it's cognitive decline. And they're relying on persuasion to try to convince you, but they're unsuccessful, because they can't see what their own limitations are."

Have an honest talk with them about why they should stop driving and how they can get around instead. See if there's public transportation or senior bus service they can use. That way they won't feel so reliant on family and friends.

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