Planning for Elderly Parents
Right now, there is an explosion of people wondering how they will help their own aging parents. Why an explosion? First of all, more people than at any other time in US history are becoming seniors or elders. That baby boom generation was large and yet, they themselves had fewer children than their parents. So, the children of the boomers are fewer.
What does this mean? It means a higher percentage of middle aged people today will be experiencing a need to deal with an aging parent. Other changes are related to gender. The caregiving experience has traditionally been a female experience, but as many women are in the workforce now, more people are now divorced and each of us has fewer siblings, more men are likely to find themselves in the traditional role of caring for an aging parent.
Because of all these changes, there are some new aspects of caregiving. The main new aspect is how will people find the time? Without traditional homemakers devoting themselves full time to the care of the family, most of us are pressed and stressed. And unlike previous generations, the baby boomers also are different as they age. They tend to be more independent, healthy, active, and socially engaged than previous generations.
So, how do you know when to help? How can you tell what kind of help is needed? How will you find the time to help? These are all important questions.
The first issue is to figure out how much help is actually needed. One great tool is a home assessment for Activities of Daily living – or “ADLs.” You can look at this as a reference to watch for trends over time or to just assess the functional ability of your aging parent.
Ten Warning Signs for needing more help is a quicker checklist to just get a feel for how much you think someone may need help.
Having tough conversations with your elderly parent may become necessary when or if help is needed but there is a difference of opinion about how the parent is doing. Being in the role of a child is also an issue that sometimes gets in the way when starting to care for an aging parent. Role-reversal is a common fear for both parents and adult children.
How to Help Aging Parents
Help can be classified from Mild to Critical:
Mild assistance may be if you occasionally need to help with an outdoor task like shoveling the sidewalks. You may need to take your aging parent to get minor medical procedures done. If there is an acute illness like the flu, you may be more likely to visit, and help with meals and cleaning. In this stage, the help is often welcomed and no one is really taking the lead role of caregiving.
Medium assistance is where things may get tricky. Now, instead of appearing “neighborly” you may be seen as "helping" by a parent who is not ready to deal with being helped. This level of care comes sometimes after a surgery, fall, illness, or just increased frailty. At this point, you may be thinking of buying a personal alarm system like the iconic “help I’ve fallen” pendant. You may get your mom or dad a cell phone in case something happens while out. You are likely to be checking in more often and feel more worried when it is very cold outside or if you have not heard from your parent. You may be wondering how much longer he or she can stay in the home. At this point, you may notice things like a decline in personal hygiene or home cleanliness. You may start to see cognitive changes as well.
This period of care is when both of you acknowledge and are well aware of the need for more assistance in the home. You may be considering hiring home care professionals and/or whether your aging parent needs to live in an assisted care facility. You may be spending a lot of your time helping with housework, finances, yard work, health care, doctor’s visits, driving, etc. This is usually a period of heavy lifting for an adult child and you may be getting the support and help you need from others or not. This can also be a time of really feeling the effects of the situation yourself – in your other relationships, work, or your own health. Caregiving is a large task and can start to have an impact. It is important at this stage to take the time to evaluate how you can get help from others and make time for your own needs as well. For great information about assisted living care check out this online resource.
This stage can be a stage of hospice care if someone is in the final stage of an illness or is critically ill – but will recover. This is more intense and time limited – but very stressful. Depending on the situation and how much help you have, it can over take the other parts of your life. This is also a critical time to ensure that you are not neglecting your own health and well-being by taking at least some time daily to ensure proper rest, some exercise like a walk outside, good nutrition, and relaxation.
How to Care for Aging Parents - Tips
- Relax. You can’t go wrong if you are helping out of respect and care for someone.
- Talk! Have the tough conversations.
- Think First. Don’t overstep your boundary. While someone may need help, you need to know where helping becomes intruding. Ask permission before touching, before changing things in the house, before just jumping in to help, etc.
- Ask. If you are not sure of the boundary, ask
- Get knowledgeable about resources in your area even if you are not sure you need services yet.
- Ask other family members to help. Be specific in your requests since most people want to help but do not know what to do or if they are over-stepping a boundary. You do them a favor to call and say “please come sit with my mom Tuesday so I can run out and do some errands.” Most people who have said “Let me know if you need help” really do mean it – but do not know what to do.
- Take Care of yourself. Exercise, eat well, sleep well, laugh, enjoy your other family members too, and remember you are only one person. You cannot be everything to everyone.
- Try to have fun with your aging parent. Even if things have not always been easy with a parent, the new roles may lead to a new relationship. Be open to exploring the ways you can enjoy your time together.