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Taking Care of Relationships in Later Life Taking Care of Relationships in Later Life

By Darrelle Volwiler, Ph.D./Geriatric Psychology

 

As you age, your relationships can be more relaxed than any other time of your life.  But about the time your connections with a spouse, family or special friends seem to be as comfortable as a favorite pair of shoes, change may be lurking.

 

Some transitions seem small or insignificant—like if your husband’s hearing loss escalates and you find it necessary to repeat yourself more than usual.  Or dramatic—such as having several friends die within a short time. 

 

Frequently challenges await you within these categories:

 

Physical Changes

Aging bodies can bring disappointment.  Many older adults struggle with chronic illnesses such as diabetes and high blood pressure, or suffer losses in hearing and vision.  For instance, a couple blessed with a long, healthy and happy relationship anticipates traveling around the country in their RV and is forced to cancel because one’s lifelong asthmatic condition progresses and it is no longer safe to travel afar.

 

Retirement

Though retirement is usually associated with a sense of accomplishment and pleasure, this transition also signifies loss.  Unrecognized, the forfeiture of identity and predictability can lead to depression for the retiree. 

 

Retirement can also raise the potential for conflict.  Partners accustomed to a significant measure of independence and time alone can be surprised and overwhelmed when they begin spending 24/7 together.  In other cases, role changes can come into play at retirement—such as negotiating household responsibilities or becoming a support force for an employed spouse. 

 

Moving to a New Location

Because remaining in the family home is not always desired or advisable, you may decide to move to alternative housing.  How you adjust to closer quarters, make decisions about belongings kept or relinquished, and receiving help from the facility will influence your relationships.

 

A Shrinking Circle of Contacts

Sooner or later, you will lose someone you love.  Especially if this is a beloved spouse or a dear friend, you might find yourself isolating or withdrawing from life. Needing to assume responsibilities of the deceased can make this experience even more devastating.  Or, perhaps so many friends have passed away, you avoid making new contacts.  Often, these responses are an effort to avoid the pain associated with grief.

 

Mental Health

Though mental disorders occur less in older adults than in any other age group, at times anxiety, dementia, substance abuse, depression or and/or sleeping problems can become bedfellows to an aging person.

 

If you or any of your loved ones are experiencing relationship stress accompanying these changes, consider these simple guidelines.

 

1.              Plan ahead.  Anticipate the relational outcomes that, as an aging person, might accompany any significant life changes.

 

2.              Talk to friends and family.  Your best source of help, hope and inspiration are the people you love. Even if you have lost a number of your loved ones, there are always those who need and could return your friendship.  It is a mistake to withdraw and avoid getting close to others, or refrain from talking about feeling blue or out of control.

 

3.              Consult your doctor.  Whenever you are troubled by conditions like depression, anxiety or sleep disorders, check with your Primary Care Physician. He or she may discover a medical condition contributing to your psychological health and relational distress and recommend medication, diet, exercise or therapy.

 

4.              Increase the pleasant events in your life.  Take a day off from responsibilities.  Do something giving you great pleasure. Reinvest yourself in previously discarded hobbies.

 

5.              Use community resources.  If struggling with a problem, community resources are available to you. Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone—or ask a friend having had a similar experience for information.

 

6.              Call a psychologist or counselor.  A mental health professional is an objective ear to bend to sort out what is causing your symptoms, and a support for finding solutions.  By learning to think differently about a situation, you can change your feelings and improve your interaction with others.

 

Whatever your concern, take a risk and try something different. It may open up new ways of approaching and understanding your world and your precious relationships.



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