Our parents’ aging can feel like a process of elimination – they might lose mobility, strength, friends – it’s hard not to feel helpless watching them sometimes, even if they’re fit enough to live independently. And these losses, however incremental, can add up to them feeling down, discouraged – even depressed. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that elderly depression is not only widespread but “a serious public health concern.” Recent research suggests that as many as 15% of elders suffer from depression, and 25% report that they suffer from persistent feelings of sadness.
Before things get to that point – one simple but important way to keep your elderly loved ones feeling more in control is through helping them feel attractive. We all feel 100% better if we look in the mirror and like what we see, whether we’re 18 or 80. Aging doesn’t take that need away! So how can you help?
Pay Meaningful Compliments: Sometimes your elderly loved one’s appearance may surprise or concern you, especially if you haven’t seen them in a while. Resist the urge to overcompensate with inflated praise (“Dad, you look like a Homecoming King!”) and instead offer a meaningful observation (“That sweater brings out your beautiful blue eyes!”). By the same token, avoid blurting out a comment meant to express concern that might be discouraging (“Mom – have you lost weight? That dress is hanging off you!”). Think positive and affirming (“Mom, the print on that dress is beautiful – maybe we could look for one with a similar pattern that fits your shape better!”)
- Take Them Clothes Shopping: Of course, elderly people do tend to lose height and inches, so by all means take them out to find attractive clothing that fits. Stay away from over-sized, shapeless attire and aim for layers that are easy on/easy off. And no need to ditch items they don’t want to part with that could be tailored – some items might just need a simple alteration. Shoes that fit well are also very important, not just for appearance but for safety’s sake, to maintain solid footing and avoid preventable falls.
- Pamper Them! Was your mom the type to never leave the house without make-up? Bring her to her favorite cosmetic counter and have a staff member help her create a look she can maintain on her own. Nails, too – your mom or dad could probably use a manicure! Just make sure to see someone who’s had experience with elderly clients, as nerve endings in the fingertips can dull with age, possibly causing an inadvertent injury.
- Get a Haircut! It’s easy for elderly people to get accustomed to putting in less effort when it comes to maintaining their hairstyle. Bring mom or dad to someone who can create a flattering look they can maintain simply at home. And don’t be shy about calling around – many hair professionals will come see people in their homes!
- Celebrate the Moment: Resist the temptation to dwell in the past; telling Dad what a knockout he was in college. Focus instead on assets they possess today (“I would kill for your gorgeous green eyes, Mom!”); frame some current photos and put them around their house, showing them what they have to celebrate right here and now!
Above all, be authentic, affirming, and upbeat! The power of positive thinking never grows old.