Caring for Your Aging Parents as a Solo Mom
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Questions to ask yourself about Mom and Dad
Working a full-time job, raising kids, running a household, and trying to actually have a social life is enough to fill up a Solo Mom’s schedule. In fact, her cup runneth over!
But believe it or not, life can get even more overwhelming and stressful. How? When parents start to age and need help, leading to the Solo Mom becoming responsible for their care and well-being. It’s sad, but it’s reality.
Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are unfortunately prevalent in the elderly. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, more than five million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s, and one in three seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or another type of dementia.
Alita Arnold is a care manager and on-staff nurse and cognitive therapeutics specialist for Home Care Assistance in Chicago. “Dementia is a progressive condition that weakens cognitive abilities, negatively impacting not only memory but thinking, language, judgment and behavior,” says Arnold, who has also worked with patients in hospitals, skilled nursing and rehabilitation facilities, and hospice.
Arnold says it’s important to look for behaviors of dementia in the elderly, which include the following:
- Forgetting important dates or events
- Asking for the same information over and over
- Having problems driving
- Having difficulty reading
- Taking much longer to do things than before
- Exhibiting an impaired ability to work with numbers, bills, or recipes
- Losing track of dates or the passage of time
- Forgetting where they are
- Having trouble following a conversation
- Repeating themselves
- Misplacing things
- Accusing others of stealing
- Paying less attention to hygiene
- Withdrawing from work or social activities
- Becoming suspicious or fearful
What if you start seeing these symptoms or other changes in one or both of your parents? So many decisions need to be made, and most people don’t even know where to begin. Medical, lifestyle, financial, and emotional aspects are involved when going from independent living to possibly needing advocacy and care.
Here are some questions a Solo Mom might want to ask herself while considering options for her mom and dad:
1. Have I overlooked signs that my parents might need help? Look for injuries, accidents, forgetfulness, moodiness, and any other change in personality or level of functioning. Such changes need to be taken seriously.
2. Are my parents safe in their home? Ask yourself if you truly think your parents are capable of continuing to live independently. Are they able to maintain the home in a safe way, cook in the home, or keep their home tidy? With the way the house is laid out, are they vulnerable to falls? Perhaps they need a caregiver to come in for a few hours per week, or maybe it would be beneficial for someone to spend nights at their home.
3. Can my parents afford to stay in their home? This might be the time when you need to help them look closely at their finances. Oftentimes, a trusted financial adviser can help them make decisions based on savings, spending, the market, and other factors. These conversations can be uncomfortable, but they are absolutely necessary!
4. Are my parents happy where they are? The emotional component of your parents’ living situation is equally important. Being happy in their home and feeling comfortable about where they live will directly affect their physical well-being.
5. Do I need to have end-of-life conversations? Despite the difficulty of end-of-life conversations, you should talk to your parents about medical powers of attorney and other wishes they might have upon their deaths. It’s better to have these conversations early on rather than wait until something such as an illness or accident happens, or a financial issue arises. You might then find yourself arguing with siblings and having to guess what your parents want. There are tools and worksheets available to help people decide how they would want their illness managed at the end of their life.
When talking with parents about possible changes that need to be made, Arnold says to make sure they know that nobody is making decisions for them. In other words, let them know they aren’t being “ganged up on.”
“It’s important that your parents don’t feel they are being forced into anything and that they still have control of their life,” Arnold says. “There is a lot of fear for parents during this time, so make sure to take a team problem-solving approach to their care, which includes their input, your input, and the input from medical professionals.”
Arnold also says it’s important to make sure parents know they are still respected.
“Send the message to them that needing help is nothing to be embarrassed about and that having help will allow them to maintain a living situation they will enjoy. In other words, the changes are all positive.”
In closing, I want to address another issue having to do with your aging parents: you. Ask yourself, Do I have the time to care for and the financial means to spend on my parents? In other words, how involved can you be in their caregiving?
Not many of the Solo Moms I know have a lot of time and/or money, but some have more of one or both than others. My point is to be honest with yourself in deciding how much you can handle physically, financially, and emotionally. And remember: never feel guilty about the decisions you make. If, in your heart, you feel you are doing what is best for everyone involved (you, your parents, your kids, and other family members), then you are a wonderful daughter.
For more information about caring for seniors, check out our Caregiving Resources.
Jackie Pilossoph, ESME’s Divorce Resource Guide, is the creator of Divorced Girl Smiling, a website that helps men and women facing divorce. She is also a weekly Huffington Post divorce blogger; the writer of a weekly column, “Love Essentially,” for the Chicago Tribune’s Pioneer Press; and a freelance corporate and business content writer. Pilossoph holds a master’s degree in journalism. She lives in Chicago with her two children. Oh, and she’s divorced.