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Caring for Aging Parents

 
Ask Dana

Dana Richardson, a life transition coach, addresses questions about helping aging parents.

Independence

In this context, independence means having choices.
There are a series of abilities given up or lost during aging. One of the big ones is driving, and the independence it offers. People generally experience grief as a result of these losses.
Children should be aware of the emotional impact of these changes, and help their parents to talk about how they feel.
It is very important to find out about their short term and long term goals. There may be some needs that they need to talk about, such as tying up loose ends in relationships, or dealing with long standing personal issues. It may be easier for a parent to talk about certain personal issues with a third party.

Moving to a seniors' residence

When you are worried a parent cannot manage alone at home, one option would be a move to a seniors' facility, but other options may exist; it may be possible to modify their home to make it suitable, or to find someone who can come in to help.
Generally, neither parents nor children know what options are available in terms of making changes to facilitate living at home or moving to alternative accommodations. The key is to find out about the options, share the information with the parent, and let them make a choice.
A move late in life is difficult. In addition to the physical exertion required, the emotional impact of a move is large; including the loss of familiar surroundings, packing and giving away of possessions, and the loss of local support networks.
Parents who move out of their home will need emotional support and understanding from their children – not just the physical help to get the job done.

The caregiver

When you are entering into a caregiver role, you don’t know what lies ahead. If it is the first time for you, Dana recommends talking to someone who has been through it before. Even though every experience is different, it helps to understand the joys and difficulties other people have experienced.
Caregivers must be careful to take good care of themselves. It can be helpful to keep a daily journal, to sort out your thoughts and feelings. Dana also recommends developing a support group of people you can talk to, and call on for help. Ideally, siblings should be part of the support group, should monitor the caregiver’s well being, and should provide support to prevent burn-out.
The choice of whether/when to move to an assisted care facility must be left to the parent, but it will depend on the ability of the caregiver to meet all their needs. When the issue arises, it may be helpful to bring in an old friend or a professional to help the parent weigh any aversion to an assisted care facility v. limits of what the caregiver can do.

Family

There are usually one or two in the family prepared to take on the care-giver role. It is very important for them to keep the lines of communication open within the family, because siblings who live far away are unlikely to realize what changes are taking place.
Siblings should do more than talk amongst themselves; they should talk with the parent, tell them about the changes they see, and about their concerns. They should listen carefully to how the parent feels. They should ensure that their parent can maintain their dignity, which includes making choices about their lifestyle, rather than being told what to do.
Within families, some people may be uncomfortable seeing a person age, while others handle it better. Those who are less comfortable should be supportive of both the parent and the caregiver, and maintain a positive and upbeat attitude.

Attitude

Dana points out that peoples' attitude to their living conditions is a function of who they are, and how they choose to adjust. She says that happiness is a choice. Not everyone will choose to be positive, but all caregivers can help by being positive, and not playing along with negative discussions about lifestyle and aging.

Some people may also need help to resolve issues with relatives or other important people in their lives, because generally speaking, the more at peace a person is with who they are and their relationships with friends, their attitude tends to be more positive.

Socialization plays an important role in quality of life. Aging can naturally cause insularity; friends and relatives die off, mobility limits the opportunity to go out and participate in activities, so interests get narrower. Care givers can help by encouraging people to visit, and encouraging their parents to take part in as many activities as possible.

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