Caring for aging parents as they start needing more help is a situation many adults face. It’s a time filled with mixed emotions - a desire to help your parent, sadness over their decline, and stress from added responsibilities. But with some planning and support, you can provide the best care for your elderly parent while keeping your own life balanced.
Assessing Your Parent’s Changing Needs
As parents age, have open conversations about their current health and abilities. Identify areas where they need more assistance so you can find solutions.
Ask about their:
- Health conditions and medications
- Mobility and physical abilities
- Cognition and memory
- Capacity for self-care like bathing, dressing, meals
- Driving skills and safety
- Social connections and activities
- Financial situation and bills
- Ability to do household activities like cleaning, yardwork
Consult with their doctors to fully understand their medical needs. Consider hiring home health aides for personal care a few hours a day or week. This can provide the extra support they need while allowing them to remain at home.
Respect your parent’s dignity and desire for independence. But be prepared to make tough choices if their judgment becomes impaired. Their safety must come first.
Getting Family Support and Community Resources
Caring for an elderly parent is extremely difficult to do alone. Don’t try to be a superhero. Ask siblings, relatives and close friends to share caregiving duties.
Have a family meeting to discuss your parent’s needs and assign tasks like grocery shopping, rides to doctors, household help, and visits. Working together prevents burnout and lets everyone contribute based on their abilities.
There are also many community resources available:
Adult Day Programs - These centers provide activities, socializing, and even health services during the day. This allows the senior to remain at home while giving family members a break.
Home Care Services - In addition to home health aides, there are agencies that provide meal preparation, medication reminders, transportation, light housekeeping and companionship.
Specialized Transportation - Many communities have free or low-cost transportation for seniors who can no longer drive. This helps them remain independent and active.
Meal Delivery - Programs like Meals on Wheels bring healthy meals right to the senior’s door. This ensures they eat well without having to cook for themselves.
Respite Care - These services provide short-term specialized care, allowing the primary caregiver to take a much needed break.
Geriatric Care Managers - These professionals can assess needs, coordinate services and provide ongoing care management. This helps organize the myriad of care options.
Joining a caregiver support group also provides invaluable support. Connecting with others facing similar challenges helps you feel less alone. Share tips and encouragement as you navigate this journey together.
Preparing Legal and Financial Matters
Make sure your parent’s legal documents are in order, such as:
Advance Directives - These include a living will documenting end-of-life wishes, and a medical power of attorney naming someone to make medical decisions if they’re unable. This avoids difficult situations if your parent becomes seriously ill.
Power of Attorney - This gives someone authority over financial and legal matters when a parent becomes incapacitated.
Will - This ensures their wishes are carried out and provides clarity about possessions.
Have frank discussions about their finances now, before problems arise. Know details like income sources, assets, insurance coverage, outstanding debts, and bills. Make plans for how to cover future medical and care costs:
Long-Term Care Insurance - If they have this policy, review details on what’s covered and how to file claims.
Medicare - Understand what services Medicare provides, any gaps in coverage, and how to enroll if they don’t have this already.
Medicaid - For lower income seniors, this government program pays for long-term care services. Look into their eligibility.
Veterans Benefits - Veterans and their spouses may qualify for financial assistance for care services.
If money is tight, your parent may need to make some difficult but wise choices like downsizing to a smaller living situation, moving in with family, or using assets for care costs.
Considering Living Arrangements
As your parent’s needs increase, staying in their own home may no longer be safe or practical. At this point, you’ll have to consider other living arrangements that provide more support.
Moving in together seems like an obvious choice, but think carefully first. Will this work long-term for relationships, space needs, care demands? Live together on a trial basis before fully committing.
Independent living communities provide senior-friendly housing with some support services. As needs grow, they can transition to assisted living or memory care within the same community.
Assisted living facilities provide housing, meals, activities, medication management, and around-the-clock care. Staff can respond to emergencies and specialized needs.
Nursing homes with skilled nursing facilities give the highest level of care for those with significant medical issues who can no longer live independently.
Getting a geriatric care physician ensures your parent receives specialized medical care. They understand the complex health and medication needs of the elderly. Also consider getting home health care through an agency versus family members, for medical treatments like wound care, injections, and disease management.
When evaluating options, balance your parent’s safety and care needs with their happiness, dignity and independence. Maintaining relationships and activities they enjoy enhances quality of life.
Caring for the Caregiver
Providing care for an aging parent is emotionally and physically exhausting. The daily stresses can feel overwhelming at times. That’s why it’s vital to take care of your own needs as well.
Watch for signs of caregiver burnout like exhaustion, irritability, depression, and withdrawing from friends. If these happen, get help.
Accept Help - Don’t insist on doing it all yourself. Let family and friends lend a hand.
Take Breaks - Schedule regular times for yourself even if just an hour a week alone to relax, enjoy a hobby, or meet a friend.
Manage Stress - Do yoga, meditate, get a massage, or see a counselor to cope with difficult emotions.
Join a Support Group - Connecting with other caregivers provides validation and comfort during the tough times.
Get Organized - Use apps, calendars and to-do lists to create structure and stay on top of responsibilities.
Watch your Health - Caregiving is physically taxing. Eat healthy, exercise, and get enough sleep. See your doctor for a checkup.
Set Boundaries - Be clear with family about what you can and can’t take on. Say no when you’ve reached your limit.
Seeking counseling is wise if you’re feeling depressed, constantly angry or overwhelmed. Share your struggles and get an objective perspective.
Providing care for an aging parent is one of the most important yet challenging things you may do in life. But by assessing their changing needs, getting support, utilizing community resources, looking into living arrangements, and taking care of yourself, you can provide the best care for them while maintaining your own wellbeing.
Although caring for a parent comes with difficulties, the time together is also precious. Find moments of joy like looking through old photos, sharing family stories, and creating new memories. This will enrich you both during this significant season of life.