How do you manage?
As people get older, they typically need assistance with things that they didn’t before. While a natural part of aging, it can be challenging for the person to accept help. It’s also not easy for the person’s family. What happens when the elderly person is your parent? What is the best way to help them without causing harm?
It’s a fact of life that we all get older and most of us don’t need much help from others as we age. In reality, many older adults are busy assisting others and contributing to their families, communities, and/or workplaces. Unfortunately, this doesn’t usually last because very few people go from being fully independent to deceased without needing assistance at some point. This is often due to health issues that affect a person’s ability to remain independent and manage various aspects of life. Sometimes the support needed is relatively straightforward, but other times it’s very involved. Typically, family members are the ones who provide long-term care, which means they can find themselves having to take on quite a lot.
If your parents are aging and having trouble staying safe and healthy, you might be unsure about how to deal with the situation. It can be overwhelming trying to figure out their needs, understanding the options available, and making the best decisions. It’s helpful to focus on something concrete because this can make you feel more in control of the situation. However, there’s a fine line between caring and controlling. Where the line is usually where older adults and their grown children disagree. Aging parents can frequently be at odds with even the most well-intentioned suggestions from our children. Per researchers at Penn State University, 77% of adult children fell that their parents are stubborn when it comes to taking their advice or getting help with daily tasks. This can lead to difficulties in relationships between adult children and their parents, which comes at a time when understanding and support are needed the most. Instead, it can result in feuding and feelings of resentment and distress. This is why it’s important for older parents to try to understand and address their children’s concerns. In addition, most aging parents believe that they’re managing well; however, this isn’t usually the case. Besides, research shows that adult children have a pretty good idea of what their parents’ needs really are.
Often, older parents can be reluctant to accept help or make changes. For adult children, it’s key to understand why their parents are resisting or persisting in their ways or opinions to improve communication with them and to find a way forward that works best for both parties. At Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, scientists had eight focus groups that contained 68 older adults whom they asked why they resisted help. The participants responded that they were afraid of losing their independence, becoming a burden on loved ones, being taken advantage of, and relinquishing control over their lives. On top of this, friends and loved ones who are peers begin passing away as their own health starts to decline. Both of these can lead to isolation, which results in loneliness and depression. All of this combined can make the “golden years” seem much less golden.
So, what are older parents looking for in relationships with their adult children? The individuals in the Northwestern study said they liked the concept of interdependence and found it helpful to think that when they accept assistance from their children, they were reducing the person’s anxieties. Participants in a different study from the State University of New York at Albany relayed that they want both autonomy and connection with their adult children. Most of these individuals define themselves as independent but hope that their children will be available to support them as needed. Many aging parents are annoyed by their children’s overprotectiveness but appreciate their concern. The primary sentiment seems to be that they want to be cared about, but fear being cared for.
As a child of an aging parent, there are several things that you can do to help them stay safe and healthy as possible. The first step is to accept the situation as it because you can’t force your parents to do anything. It’s essential to remember that your parents are adults with the right to make their own decisions, even poor ones. While accepting this fact is hard, it can help lower your stress and improve your relationship with your parents. Another vital element is to stop expecting your parents to be as they used to be. Just like you, they’re entering a new phase of life, so by letting go of unrealistic expectations, you’ll be able to defuse conflicts. Since this is the final stage of your journey with your parents, make the time meaningful for them and you. Your primary objective should be to make your parents feel emotionally connected and accepted, even when they’re in a diminished state.
After coming to terms with the circumstances, the next priority is to assess what your parent’s needs are. Many aging parents nor their children know what it takes to stay independent and self-sufficient. When you don’t know what’s required, it can feel overwhelming. This is why it’s crucial to think about eight key areas: family support, home safety, medical needs, cognitive health, mobility, personal hygiene, meal preparation, and social interaction. You should be looking at each category in terms of how much support they need and are currently getting. To make it easy to keep track of, write everything down in a caregiving notebook. During the process, try to include your parents because this helps them see you as a partner rather than someone taking over their life. One thing to try is to communicate your worries to your parent and explain how they’ll be lessened if they follow your advice. Keep in mind that it’ll likely take several conversations and as long as they’re not in immediate danger, don’t force changes too quickly. Instead, focus on 1 or 2 critical needs and slowly add more until they’re getting all the help they need. Older adults often first need help with Activities of Daily Living (ADLs), such as managing transportation, finances, shopping, home maintenance, and meal preparation. Sometimes, you may notice changes, like bounced checks, calls from collections, and late payment notices; broken or damaged appliances and fixtures; changes in mood or extreme mood swings; cluttered, dirty or disorganized house; confusion and uncertainty when performing familiar tasks; feeling depressed or having little to no energy; wearing disheveled or tattered clothing; having expired groceries; forgetfulness (ex. not taking medications); leaving the house or yard maintenance unattended; loss of interest in activities or hobbies they once enjoyed; missing necessary appointments; weight loss or poor dieting habits; poor personal hygiene; trouble getting up from a seated position; frequent injuries or bruising; and unexplained dents or damage on their car.
The most pressing issues to take care of are any that threaten your parents’ safety. Safety hazards can accumulate over time. A significant concern is anything that would make it easier for an older adult to trip, fall, or hurt themselves. Preventing falls is essential to keeping your parent independent for as long as possible. The good news is there are simple fixes, including making sure all floors and walkways are clear of clutter, cords, and rugs; adding grab bars in the bathroom and stair railings throughout the house; updating lights so all rooms are bright and switches are easily accessible; ensuring all appliances work and are within easy reach; and minimizing the need to use step-stools or bend down low. An additional safety concern is your parents’ ability to communicate with others. This can include friends and family, which assists them in not feeling isolated, and emergent medical help. To encourage both of these, you need to make sure that they have access to simple and easy-to-use devices. Another option, if your parent is willing, is a wearable medical alert device.
Another significant safety concern is medical problems that become more common late in life. Chronic conditions typically require medications, monitoring, and other forms of ongoing management. Also, older adults may develop new symptoms or health concerns. Frequently, serious illness or certain chronic conditions can cause older adults to lose the ability to make their own health decisions and oversee their medical care. This means that family members must step in to make these decisions. One consideration is whether or not your parent’s current housing situation is a good fit for aging in place. Sometimes, they need a more supportive environment, which can include moving in with a family member, hiring someone to take care of them in their own home, or moving to an assisted living. Part of the problem with the healthcare system is that the majority of people don’t understand what is being said because of the technical terms. Besides, doctors are limited on time, so few explanations occur about the consequences and options of treating or not treating chronic disease and prescriptions are often written with no reason given. In addition, many caregivers and aging adults are fearful of asking questions, which means situations can get much worse instead of better. This means that many older adults lack information on how to remain healthy. One thing that could be helpful is to go to a geriatrician (geriatric doctor) because they specialize in caring for seniors and have more experience treating people with multiple chronic health conditions, dementia, and other conditions that mainly affect them.
Aging isn’t a cheap process. This is why it’s crucial you and your parents understand their financial situation and the current/potential future costs of the services they will need. This includes the cost of medical care, their potential living situation, and everyday items (ex. food, caregiving supplies, and home safety modifications). Once you know their financial position and required services, you’ll know if they’ll be able to afford the care they need or if they’ll need financial help. Government programs, like Medicare and Medicaid, and other programs, such as your local Agency on Aging, can be valuable resources. It’s vital to note that these programs don’t usually pay for everything. So, planning ahead is indispensable. Since family members often need to take on more legal and financial issues with time, completing the necessary legal paperwork to make it official can make it easier for you to assist, if/when it becomes necessary. An elder law attorney or financial planner can support you during this process. Another person who can provide assistance is a geriatric care manager.
Caring for an aging loved one is one of the hardest jobs you’ll ever have, so it’s vital to take time to promote your own wellbeing. Many people must continue to tend to their jobs, children, and other responsibilities at the same time they also try to figure their new caregiving role, which leads to a significant amount of stress. Often, this leads to caregivers neglecting their own needs and wellbeing, ultimately jeopardizing their own health and affecting their ability to care for their older parent. Caregivers frequently give up social activities and time with friends to spend time caregiving, which can make them feel like their lives are on hold and everything is up in the air. Asking for help is a solution that many caregivers fail to see as an option. Moreover, family disagreements can result between the caregiver and family members who don’t take care of the person but are trying to tell them what to do. Most caregivers want to avoid family conflict, so they remain silent. It’s vital to find an outlet, who aren’t your parents, to confide your feelings in, such as a friend, sibling, therapist, support group, or senior living advisor. Also, take time for yourself to get physical activity, do things you enjoy, and spend time alone. Learn as much as you can about what you need to do because there is no substitute for knowledge, being prepared, and having the confidence to know what to do in all care situations. Unfortunately, there isn’t anything that can adequately prepare you for becoming a caregiver for your aging parent. However, there are several tips you can follow that can make it a little bit easier:
• Be patient
• Give your parents time to adjust
• Don’t pick fights and stay calm when disagreements arise
• Listen carefully to your parents’ concerns
• Let them know you’re on their side
• Try to understand the motivation behind their behavior
• Don’t try to communicate important things when either of you is tired or angry
• Give them choices whenever possible
• Make preserving trust a priority
• Choose your battles
Remember, dealing with a stubborn parent is not the same as dealing with a stubborn child. When parents are behaving irrationally, it can be tempting to threaten them or insist you know what’s best, but this will only drive a wedge between you. While it may feel as if you and your parents have switched roles, they’re still your parents and want to be treated with respect.
One misconception is that children should always care for their aging parents. While we have a responsibility to help loved ones as they age, there are limits. It’s essential to stop and think about your own needs and abilities before you assume that you can take care of all your parent’s needs. Some considerations are:
• Your own health
• How close you live to your parents
• Where you’re all going to live (ex. Are you moving in with them or vice versa?)
• Your relationship with your parents
• Your willingness to learn how to care for them
Caregivers typically have to do things they never imagined, like changing Depends, cleaning catheter bags, and bathing an aging parent. Predictably, as care needs increase for aging parents due to declining health, the role of caregiving becomes more stressful. Some people aren’t up to this challenge and that’s okay. Everyone wants their parents to be safe and healthy and there are many ways to accomplish that. It’s not selfish or heartless if you’re not the best person to provide direct care. Don’t get yourself into a situation that’s not good for either one of you. By recognizing early on that you can’t do it and will need help, it’ll be better for both of you in the long run. One of the best ways to handle it is to treat caregiving as a business with one person being in charge who organizes the team and letting each member choose the tasks that they’ll manage. Many people are long-distance caregivers where they make doctor appointments and get test results over the phone, arrange for visiting-nurse services and food deliveries, and manage loved ones’ finances online. This allows you to facilitate the best care environment for your parent, even if you aren’t there in person.
Caregiving isn’t a job that most people envision having, but it can happen in the blink of an eye. Many people don’t realize what it takes to take care of an aging parent. When you have no idea of caregiving responsibilities or prior experience as a caregiver, it can feel like you’re on a rollercoaster. Since caregiving is a matter that involves everyone in a family, it should be talked about throughout life. By conversing about these things regularly, there will be fewer surprises in the long run. The ultimate goal is to help your parents receive the best care possible and by doing the things discussed, you’ll be able to look back and know you did the best you could for your parent while making the most of their last days, months, and years. In addition, you’ll have a life to return to, filled with people you love, activities that interest you, and the good health to enjoy them.