It’s a tough time for everyone when the parent-child dynamic flips. But age can cause exactly that.
Around 40% of people with aging parents in need of help act as the primary caregiver. That shows how many adults take on the huge burden of caring for their parents as they age. But it’s not an eventuality that many of us prepare for. When it arrives, we may not be ready.
That’s why we’ve put together some advice on taking care of aging parents.
An Open Channel
This piece of advice forms the bedrock of everything that comes after. Communication is vital to taking effective care of your aging parents.
You need to talk with them often and establish lines of communication about their welfare. Small talk won’t reveal much about how they’re coping with day to day life.
If your parents aren’t great at this, then you’ll need to improve your listening skills, instead. Read between the lines to look for potential problems. Many deeper problems carry simple symptoms.
For instance, your parents may mention they’ve been receiving a lot of mail recently. On its own, this doesn’t seem like much. But it could be a sign of poor financial management leading to mounting bills.
We live in a world where near-constant contact is easy to maintain, so use that to your advantage. Texting and phone calls can’t always be a substitute for a face-to-face conversation, but they can help to keep you up to date.
The Money Question
Money isn’t everyone’s favorite subject, but you’ll need a firm understanding of it if you want to help your parents.
That means taking their financial situation into account, not just your own. Seniors are prone to mismanagement of their finances. They may become confused or fall victim to scams.
If you’ve established good lines of communication, you should talk frequently about finances to ensure they’re coping. Look for early warning signs like increased stress or obvious confusion about their spending.
But you also need to keep your own financial house in order. Spending too much or cutting back on work to take care of your parents could leave you in an untenable financial situation. Over time, that may lead to even greater risks for both you and your parents as you lose the ability to support them.
Getting older isn’t easy. And as we age, our emotional responses can also become more extreme, almost as though we’re regressing to childhood.
Seniors can struggle to keep a lid on negative emotions. And when this happens, they can range from moody to stubborn and even become aggressive. That makes the job of caring for aging parents even harder — possibly even dangerous.
It’s important to recognize negative emotions and learn techniques for dealing with them. These won’t always be successful, but they may help you control an otherwise difficult situation.
Negative emotions can even be a sign that your loved one is dealing with a more severe mental issue, like the early stages of dementia.
This blog can give you some further advice on dealing with negative emotions.
Care for Yourself
When you’re caught up looking after aging parents, it’s easy to forget that you also need to look after yourself.
If you’re coming home after a long workday to spend your evenings caring for your parents, then you aren’t getting time for yourself. You may be able to get away with that a few times, but if you do it for long enough, then the strain will begin to show.
Sacrificing all your time and energy for your parents can leave you with physical and mental health problems, or even in a financial crisis. And if you do run out of steam, there’ll be no one to help your parents while you’re out of commission.
That’s why it’s vital to assert control over your time. Don’t put your own essential life maintenance on the back burner just because you have aging parents. There’s a good chance they’ll need help for the foreseeable future, and you won’t be able to keep up the pace.
Ask for Help
That leads us through to the obvious conclusion: asking for help.
Even if you’re an only child, it’s not on you alone to look after your parents. Reaching out to extended family or professional caregivers can relieve some of the burden on you.
As a caregiver, you may also have access to financial support from the state. This could lead to cheaper medical bills or access to care at home.
Take the time to think about who you can turn to. This may mean conducting research online or contacting services in your area to give you an idea of available state support.
Accept Your Limits
There may come a time when there’s no escaping reality: your parents are beyond both their own and your ability to look after them.
It’s important to recognize that eventuality when it appears. It’s then time to make decisions about the future, which may involve a serious discussion with your parents.
You may need to look into options like care at home, or assisted living. Both can give your parents access to round-the-clock help that you’re unable to provide.
But ignoring the problem will only make it worse with time. Keep an eye on the signs and use conversations with your parents as a barometer for how well they’re coping when living alone.
Never take this as a sign of your personal failure. You weren’t put in the world solely to care for your parents, and they may require support that’s beyond your ability to offer. It’s important to relinquish control where it means the future health of your parents.
Taking Care of Aging Parents
Taking care of aging parents is often stressful and difficult. It can interfere with your adult life, which can even cause a cycle of guilt to emerge as you struggle to repress that resentment. But you’re entitled to your own happiness, so knowing how you can best help your parents is vital.
Looking for more health advice? Check out our health section here.