This guide is based on a conversation between Pyschotherapist Julie Merchant from Lifeisgr8 Coaching and Counselling and Holisitic Therapist, Paul Jokinen-Carter from Natural Joki Flow.

Paul: As we both know getting 'old' can arouse a whole range of feelings from isolation to being overwhelmed with life. At what stage do you think the feelings of isolation and anxiety etc kick in?

Julie: I feel it depends on the life situation of the individual and how prepared they are for their later years. I believe that for some, the mile stone of retirement can be the beginning of a social status decline and, a loss of purpose. This can arouse feelings of unimportance. As people age further they may experience a decrease in physical and cognitive abilities, plus they begin to lose loved ones. These changes add to the sense of feeling unwanted, with a loss of identity.

Paul: That's very true, some of my older counselling clients are in a kind of aging crisis, with a strong fear of getting old and dying alone.

Julie: And this isn't helped by society's fixation on youth culture, making us older folks feel less important and valueless. It’s a kind of invalidation of the wise elder. This is backed up by research that indicates that these negative attitudes towards aging can really impact older adults' health and well-being, leading to increased feelings of loneliness, depression and decreased life satisfaction.

Paul: And what about those elders who do manage to live happily in their own aging process? What is different about them do you think?

Julie: I believe they probably prepare themselves well for post-retirement life by discovering new sources of purpose and fulfilment such as: volunteering, spending time with loved ones, and pursuing hobbies and interests. Additionally, they may be lucky to receive the support and care from loved ones and the community - all of these factors can help to counteract feelings of unimportance and improve well-being in older adults.

Paul: What do you suggest we can do as children of aging parents to ensure they have fulfilling lives in their later years?

Julie: I've come up with three broad steps to help us, to help them - Encourage, support and connect:-

  1. Encourage them: to engage in social activities. This can include joining a seniors' club, volunteering for a cause they care about, or finding a way to mentor and guide local youth. And encourage them to share their wisdom and their experiences.
  2. Support them: You can help with errands, cooking, or even just checking in on them regularly. You can provide emotional support by listening to your parents and let them know that you care. This will create a safe climate for them to talk about their feelings. And if it’s logistically possible, ensure you are physically available to provide a shoulder to lean on, with arms ready for a warm hug.
  3. Connect them: with resources. Many are available to help aging adults, such as Meals on Wheels, transportation services, and support groups. And connect them to professional help, e.g. if you are concerned about your parents' well-being, consider seeking the help of a doctor, counsellor, or geriatric care manager.

Paul: That's a great list. I especially feel that physical contact is important. Sadly, we know a few mature clients who don't have the luxury of human contact, they can go for weeks without any physical touch.

Julie: That is very sad. I also feel it is important to be patient and understanding as your parents navigate the challenges of aging. With our support, they can lead fulfilling lives and continue to be an important part of our families. It is also important to take time to listen and glean what we can from our parents, as you never know when this information will be just what you needed. In my own case, I realise that I have spent several years maintaining a childish resistance to the kernels of wisdom that my parents tried to share with me, only to realize through my own failed experiences that they actually had some valuable knowledge to share.

Julie Merchant is a US based National Certified psychotherapist serving the Expat community in Portugal. She can be contacted through her website:

Paul Jokinen-Carter is a Holistic Therapist and works in the fields of massage, Reiki healing and counselling. You can contact him on +351 910 665 601.

Part 2 to follow shortly - 'How to cope with aging parents'.