Perhaps Calvin and Hobbes said it best:
“Sometimes at night I worry about things and then I can’t fall asleep. In the dark, it’s easier to imagine awful possibilities….
And it’s hard to feel courageous in loose-fitting drowsy bear jammies.”
While depression can be an issue for Grandma and Grandpa (proven by the fact that it’s one of Frontida’s most read posts), studies show anxiety actually hits twice as often.
Want to help? Identifying the “why” is the first part of the battle. Maybe it’s one of these creepy-crawlies.
1. What’s the Scam?
Is Grandma worried about being someone’s next victim?
Her “grandchild” calls, claiming to have been injured overseas. His nose is busted up. (Hence the different sounding voice.) He needs money right away but is too embarrassed to call Dad. Of course, Grandma’s credit card will fix everything.
Can’t you just feel the angst building in her chest? “You don’t know who to trust” has never felt truer.
Once my caller id literally labeled the caller as “Scam.” Unfortunately, it isn’t always that clear.
- Suggest that if Grandma receives any odd phone calls, she hang up and call her bank, her grandchild, you, etc., on the number she usually uses.
- And if Grandma wants any work done around the house, help her thoroughly vet workers first to be sure they’re on the up-and-up.
2. Hear ye/ Hear ye! Read All About It…
We’re inundated with local and global news 24/7. Cable, radio, websites, social media…each making sure we know their spin on every war and every rumor of war.
While it’s good to keep up on current events, it can also keep us in a perpetual state of apprehension. We find ourselves staring at screens all day in a world that has forgotten how to communicate in the same room—let alone how to communicate civilly.
- Encourage Grandpa to get out and meet people. Or bring them in for a game of chess.
- If he is chair-bound, arrange some of those seats to face a window rather than the TV.
Help him see the beauty in the world, not just the hardship.
3. Show Me the Money
Taxes, insurance, rising costs of milk and butter… None of this is new to Grandma.
But on a fixed income, it can get tight. Especially if she’s also worried about medical bills and her future healthcare needs.
- Ask Grandma if she’d like you to sit down and look over her budget with her. Is she able to get to the cheapest grocery stores? Do you need to call the phone company to see if they have new deals?
- Check out her home to see if repairs could cut costs. (Drippy sink? Uncaulked windows?)
- Discuss alternatives for housing and where the funds might come from if she needs to make a change.
As she always told you, money doesn’t grow on trees—but together you can make sure it stretches as far as it can.
4. Forget Hearing the Tree Fall in the Woods—Would You Hear Grandpa?
There’s a reason “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” commercials are so iconic. It’s a real concern.
Doctors say that the biggest threat to a senior citizen’s health is falling. Grandpa could break a hip…which would incapacitate him…which would make him lose muscle tone…which would weaken him…which would make him susceptible to more falls.
You get the picture.
- Look for conditions that could make him fall: combination of medicines, stability of his feet, muscle strength.
- If he has fallen before, weigh the seriousness of future falls: did he hit his head, break something, lose consciousness?
- No matter how strong he is, falls happen. Trip on a rug, slip on a wet floor… Can Grandpa reach help? Consider getting a call button. Or set up Alexa to make the call.
5. Family Affairs
When my kids were little and I complained about their keeping me up at night, a wise older woman reminded me that I had it good. My babies were in the next room, and I could check on them any time. But when they grew up, they would still keep me up—and I might not have any idea where they were.
Here’s betting Grandma knows the truth of that.
Just because her kids have flown with kids of their own doesn’t mean she doesn’t still worry about all of you. Especially if she doesn’t feel like she can help.
- Assure her that she’s still needed.
- Keep her up to date on things happening in the family.
While her nest may be empty, let her know it’s not abandoned.
6. When the Gangs NOT All Here
As Grandpa gets older, he’s going to say goodbye to some good friends. Some may move to new housing. Some may pass on. Meanwhile, he loses those who “remember when…”
He may worry about being the last one left. Or he may worry about leaving others behind.
- Help him get together with the ones still around. If friends have moved across town or even a little ways away, work out times for him to visit.
- Create a memory book for him and his friends, or better yet, video them together so he can watch it when they aren’t around.
- Introduce him to new friends at the local senior center.
Through it all, assure him that he himself won’t be forgotten.
7. Driving Miss Daisy
I don’t think anything gives us a feeling of independence like that driver’s license.
But as Grandma gets older, getting behind the wheel may be more nerve wracking than fun: impatient drivers, congested roads, faster speed limits. And as her eyes change, nighttime driving looks different.
But she might also be afraid of giving it up.
- Talk through her feelings about it, sharing any of your concerns. Do any of her medications make things dicey on the road?
- Look for compromises. Maybe she can drive short distances during the day, and you chauffer after dark or across town.
- When you’re the designated driver, find ways to show her you enjoy the time with her, that she isn’t a burden.
Handing over the keys may become a necessity. Help her handle it with as much peace as possible.
8. His Slate Keeps Changing
Life is full of adjustments. But if it’s one earthquake after another, it’s no wonder Granddad’s edgy.
Has he had to move? Had a sudden accident affecting what he can and can’t do?
- Help him make his new place feel like home.
- Give him time to recuperate by helping him rock rehab.
Few of us really like change, but often it’s really the unknown that we most worry about. Let Grandpa know you’re there to work through the upheavals with him.
10. When They Say Medication is the Best Medicine
Let’s forget for a moment those childproof caps that only children seem able to open.
A. Grandma’s got to read some pretty small font on the bottles.
B. If she takes several pills, she needs to keep track of what to take when, with what food and liquid, if any.
C. And, as she gets older, it might be hard to swallow if she doesn’t remember to look down.
[Atul Gawande explains in his book Being Mortal that the spine dips your head forward as you age. So looking straight ahead while you eat is like a younger person trying to swallow food staring at the ceiling. It makes you choke.]
D. Finally, there’s the side effects—plus the interactions.
It’s enough to make anybody’s head spin.
- Separate her medications into a pill box by date and time.
- If they have different “take with” requirements, help her print off small pictures of the yays and nays for food and liquid and paste them in the box.
- Give her a small notebook to write down her side effects so she doesn’t have to remember them when she sees the doctor.
- Make sure she has the pharmacists’ phone number readily accessible if she has questions.
If she’s still anxious about all those pills, hire a college student to stop by and check on her once or twice a day, just to make sure she’s doing okay.
When Unease Isn’t Spotted Easily
Like depression, anxiety can cloak itself in other forms.
- Grandma sleeps all the time or, vice versa, struggles with insomnia? Both are potential signs of worry. Of course, both can cause anxiety as well.
Encourage her to exercise, taking a walk with you outside during the day, and talk through what might be bothering her.
- Grandpa suddenly struggles to remember details? You’ll want to check for a UTI. But if everything’s clear there, again, talk with him to see if he’s overwhelmed. He may have so many wheels worrying him, he can’t keep his thoughts straight.
- Nervousness can also show up as hypertension or even pain—headaches, stomachaches, backaches. You guessed it: A doctor should check it out, but don’t dismiss the power of showing grandparents that their concerns are important to you.
If Grandma or Grandpa have an actual diagnosed anxiety disorder, ask their physician to direct you to proper medical help. And if they need a safe space to call home, Frontida’s Azalea Place might be the perfect spot.
But everyday anxiety doesn’t have to be something grandparents live with. Start with the possible issues listed here and help them let go of the tension.
Have you found a different area of anxiety where your parents or grandparents have struggled? Let us know on Facebook.
Elizabeth Daghfal is a writer, teacher, speaker, and community volunteer. When she isn't teaching or writing-- Who are we kidding? Her husband and five kids say she's ALWAYS teaching and writing. She has a passion to help people who are struggling and is happy to say her shoulders are drip-dry. Born and raised in the South, she now lives in Wisconsin and loves it--except for the fifteen months of winter. Read more about her at elizabethdaghfal.com.