For the majority of our lives, especially childhood, our parents can seem ageless and invulnerable. We forget to stop and think about as we grow older, so do they… They have taken care of us throughout our lives and for many we continue to lean on them for advice and support as adults. For so long they have taken care of us and then many of us realize that our strong and self-sufficient parents have aged and now need our help. For some of us it is a gradual realization but for others, it comes on suddenly because of an accident or health issue like a heart attack or a fall.
Adult children begin to see the once-strong hands of a parent shake with age or need assistance with regular daily activities. As they hold those hands to help their mom or dad walk, they see independence ebbing away, as it eventually does for all of us.
As these changes progress, many can struggle with the loss of that parent-child relationship and can balk at being put in the position of caretaker. Whether it is a role that you are comfortable with or not, it is typically the children who do step up to the plate to care for their aging parents. The role of caregiver has reversed and now it is up to you, the child, to make sure that your aging parent is healthy, safe and cared for.
This is a natural transition, a natural part of life, and where it can be difficult it can also be rewarding as you discover new ways to savor and enjoy your relationship with a parent. Take this time to truly appreciate the time you do have with them and do all that you can to make sure their life continues to be one full of joy and comfort.
As you step into your new role, you may not know exactly where to start or what decisions need to be made. Truthfully, you may not need to make any at first but you should begin to educate yourself on what could be coming in the future and the options for seeing to your parents’ care. Below are some items to start thinking about and researching so that when and if the time comes, you are prepared. It is also smart to share this information with other family members so that you have help and everyone can pitch in.
Questions to think about:
- Does your parent need assistance throughout the day? Who’s available to provide this?
- Is your parent’s memory impaired?
- Which activities of daily living (food preparation, bathing, grooming) can your parent can do independently?
- What is your comfort level for providing personal care such as bathing?
- Are you physically capable of providing the care to your parent? Who is?
- What services, such as in-home care, are available?
- Does your parent have access to medical care in their community?
- Does your parent live near any other family that are willing to help?
What are your options?
If it is deemed that your parent(s) need to move, there are four factors that will determine where the best place is.
- Their daily care needs
- The location of potential housing and proximity to family members
- Services and support available
Below are some different types of living arrangements that may be appropriate for someone who doesn’t need extensive assistance. Every community offers different choices. Medicare does not usually cover long-term care expenses or services.
- Living independently at home: Most people prefer to remain in their own homes, and sometimes that’s possible—with some help. Resources in the community such as meal delivery service, “friendly visitors,” housekeeping, home health aides, transportation, or other in-home assistance might provide enough support so your parent can remain at home, in familiar surroundings. The home must be safe, with good lighting, clear spaces to walk, no stairs.
- A newer option, called Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities, NORCs or Villages, offers members—generally a group of older people who live in the same geographic area—services such as home repair, transportation, and social/educational activities.
- Retirement Community: Independent retirement communities usually offer individual apartments in a multi-unit setting with meals, transportation, housekeeping and social activities. Residents are free to come and go as they please, yet have the benefits of a larger group setting.
- Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs–sometimes called “Life Care”) offer independent, assisted and skilled nursing facilities all in one location. If a person’s health deteriorates, a disruptive move to a new community isn’t necessary.
A New Roommate
You and your family may decide that the best place for your parent is in your home. While this can be a very rewarding experience on many levels, living with your parent may lead to some tension caused by a shift in family roles. A once-independent parent may become more dependent. You’ll probably have less time for your spouse, your children, or for yourself. These role changes can be big adjustments for everyone.
There must be enough space and a floor plan that is suitable for an older adult who might have mobility or vision problems. Some homes require special adaptations to make them safe. Home health agencies and/or Area Agencies on Aging may help you do a home assessment and recommend modifications like ramps and hand rails.
Your lifestyles and schedules are completely different than when you last lived together. Sleeping cycles, food preferences, noise level, social calendars, interests, and activities may need adjustments in order to guarantee a happy transition.
As part of taking care of your parents, you may have to get more involved with their personal finances, paying bills, monitoring and managing accounts. This can be awkward for all parties so it is best to have real, honest conversations at the very beginning to ease this transition. Remember, it is another way that they are relinquishing their independence and it can be hard. Here are some questions/actions to begin this process.
- Agree upon how much your parent will provide towards their living expenses: rent, food and other costs?
- Openly discuss financial arrangements with siblings so that everyone knows what is going on and how they can help.
- Consider preparing a formal legal document called a Personal Care Agreement describing any payment to you from your parent for accommodations or your caregiving services.
- Be sure legal documents are in place, such as Durable Powers of Attorney and Advance Directives.
- Evaluate whether you need to make adjustments to your current work schedule.
- If you will reduce your work hours, determine the implications for your own financial picture, your job, health insurance, and Social Security and retirement benefits.
This can seem overwhelming, and it is just the beginning but it’s like the beginning of any new marriage – you have to learn to communicate in a different way on a different level. Our biggest advice to you is to ask for help! We are happy to discuss your sitation with you to help you figure out what the best course of action is for your family, and help you down the road of setting up in-home care if it is deemed necessary. Above all things, remember the love you have for your parents and all they have done for you! Now, it’s your turn to give back to them.