Full text of Amy O’Rourke’s talk: How to Relieve the Stress of Caring for an Aging Parent at TEDxOrlando conference.
Best quote from this talk:
“Being with an older person is really an opportunity to slow down. Try to rush an older person. Try it! You can’t do it. So, you have to be there. You have to slow down. I kind of think about it like a form of meditation.”
Listen to the MP3 Audio here:
Amy O’Rourke – Founder of Cameron Group Care Management Services
How many of you in here, raise your hand, can easily recognize the two-year-old? Raise your hand.
All right. Now, how many of you in here could easily recognize an 85-year-old? Raise your hand.
This is the topic of my talk today. I’m going to talk about caring for the late life elder, and taking the stress out of it. And I appreciate your time and attention, all of us do here today. Thank you. It means a lot.
I have a master’s degree in public health administration and I have a master’s degree in gerontology, and I’ve worked with older adults for 30 years. But most importantly, I love working with older people. I love it.
The first job I had out of college, I was 21 years old, I was the assistant activity director in a 21 bed nursing home. And every day, I’d walk down the hall and I’d go into Emilia’s room. That’s Emilia with an ‘e’. She would say that every day.
I’d walk in the room and I would say, “Emilia, it’s time to go to bingo, or arts and crafts.” And she would say, “Honey, I want to die.”
And I would say, “If that’s not going to happen in the next few minutes, would you consider going to bingo?”
And she would laugh and she hit me on the arm and off we’d go. I was hooked.
So, in thinking about this topic ‘lowering stress caring for older adults’ I’ve come up with three areas that I think deserve attention.
One is the denial of reality. The second is knowing some basic ground rules. And the third is accepting it as a lifestyle change.
Now, I have children that say to me, “You know, I didn’t expect this. This has been a rude awakening. I just didn’t expect this. This is a lot of stress.” And their parents are 85. I think, with my 30 years, why are you surprised? How is that surprising?
But when I stopped and thought about it, we live in a youth-obsessed culture. We’re youth obsessed. We’ve got anti-aging creams; we’ve got surgeries. You know what I’m talking about.
We’d love to read stories in the paper about 85-year-olds who graduate from college and 100 year old that climbs Mount Everest.
Well, you know, Condoleezza Rice was offered the position of Secretary of State and she almost turned that job down. You know why? Because her father had had a stroke, and she didn’t know if she could do that job and take care of her father. And I do believe that’s not widely known.
Hillary and Bill Clinton. We all know Chelsea. We’ve watched Chelsea grow up; we’ve watched her go to college; we certainly watched her get married. Hillary lost her mother when her mother was 92 years old. And when I read that in the paper, I ached for Hillary. Hillary has said publicly that her mother was the most influential person in her life; and here Hillary was in the public eye, caring for her mother and we didn’t know it. It wasn’t written about.
Why is that? We’re scared. We’re afraid. We’re afraid of death. You know what the number one fear in this country is? It’s public speaking. True statement. That’s a true statement.
Second is fear of death. We’re afraid of endings; we’re afraid of seeing our parents grow smaller. Do you know you lose five inches? Yes, you do. The little old lady, that’s a real thing.
We’re afraid of seeing our parents get smaller, more diminished, shaky judgement, walking slower. We’re scared so we deny it; we pretend it’s not there, we don’t want to face it.
Second is ‘knowing some ground rules.’ Now this picture is lousy; it’s very grainy, very grainy. But I kept it up here because the woman, Doris, used to work for me and Richard works in our office, and we had them staged the picture as role-reversal.
Ground rule number one ‘role reversal.’ Get this in your mind, three words, you ready? Big, fat, lie. Role reversal never should happen; we never become our parents’ parents. And if you try, you won’t do so well. Try it. Go ahead.