Maintaining Your Sanity While Caring for Aging Parents at Home
Tips for making the best out of a demanding, yet rewarding, situation
Life expectancy in the United States has hit an all time high. And while this is wonderful news, older people often require assistance with their daily tasks. While some seniors eventually end up in assisted living facilities, many of them live at home. Their care often falls on the shoulders of their children—us. Our generation is the “sandwich generation” because many of us are caring for our children and our aging parents. Here are some things to consider when caring for your parents at home.
Talk with the medical providers
Talk directly with your parent’s doctors. This will require consent, but it is extremely important. Sometimes parents may downplay their medical needs as a point of pride. You need to know exactly what their health conditions are, what medications they are on, and what side effects these medications may have. Also ask their doctor how she expects their health to change over time. Many of the illnesses that affect older people are progressive, and it is important for you to know how their health will change. Ask how these changes will impact the level of care they will need. Knowing what may be in your future can help you plan ahead for changes.
Assess your time and resources, and be honest with yourself. Caring for your parents will be difficult at times. Overextending yourself because you feel that is the right thing to do is not going to be helpful to anybody. Also be realistic about the level of assistance you may receive from other family members. Unfortunately, not all family members are going to help. You can request assistance, but if they are not willing to step up, you will need to find alternatives. Calculate your parent’s finances. This can be extremely difficult for some parents to turn over. Be as sensitive as you can, but it truly is imperative for you to know what their financial situation is so you know what financial resources you have available to you. Base all your decisions on realistic goals. This is not the time to beat yourself up over not being able to provide an ideal solution. You do the best you can.
Include your parent in decision making
It can be easy to dismiss an older parent’s input, especially if there are changes in memory or cognitive function. But listen to their objections and feelings, and try to reassure them that any decisions you are making is to insure their health and safety. When possible, present your parents with choices. Can they choose whom they have help them? Can they decide what modification may be made to their home to make it safer for them? Now is a good time to discuss long-term care wishes and end of life care. Put all the cards on the table and discuss it all. Do not be afraid to bring in a counselor or mediator. A third party can help with these emotional conversations.
Expect resentment and anger
This is a tough one to talk about. Maybe you and your parents have always gotten along well. Or maybe it has always been contentious. Either way, expect some resentment and anger from your parents now. When children start caring for parents, there is a huge shift in the balance. The one thing your parents have always had over you is authority. Now they do not have that. They guided you and counseled you, and now there is a role reversal. It can be difficult for some parents to swallow and they lash out in frustration. Although this feels extremely personal, try not to take it that way. Try to remain as calm as possible, and don’t allow them to push any of the buttons they are well aware you have. If you anticipate their anger and resentment, it will be easier to deal with when it shows up.
Take care of yourself
Last, but certainly not least, take care of yourself. Protect your assets. Do not overextend yourself financially—you have you and your children to look after. Be sure you are eating right and at least taking walks. Stretch out at the end of the day. Find time to do whatever it is you enjoy doing—hikes with your kids, reading a good book, baking. Caring for aging parents is a marathon, not a sprint! It can be a long, drawn out process, and you have to find a balance between their needs and your own. It does no one any good to burn out the first year and become resentful and angry. Do not feel guilty about taking the time you need—you need it!
For many of us, caring for aging parents is a reality. And our parents want to stay in their homes for as long as they can, which puts the burden of caring for them on us. By being aware of some of the hurdles you may encounter along the way, you can better prepare yourself for this difficult yet rewarding time of your life.
Image via Shutterstock.com
Julia Liu is the daughter of a Solo Mom and has a degree in professional communication. She is the mom to two sons. She has worked in early-childhood education and was the director of a nonprofit private preschool for many years. You can follow her on Twitter at @notaDNB1.
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