Aging is a part of the circle of life. Your once young parents, who brought you up and were there for you whenever you needed it, may need your help now. You probably want to do everything to make the final chapters of their lives happy, and their end dignified. But how do you achieve this? We've compiled a list of advice that may come in handy for their caring kids.
Do your parents need help at all?
Many older people don't want any help - they want to be completely independent. Admitting that they don't function in the way they used to anymore and could use a helping hand, may feel humiliating for them. They don't want to interfere with their children's lives or to be a burden, too.
You should understand and respect this attitude. Just put yourself in their position – at that age, you'll probably feel the same. If your parents are still managing to take care of their nutrition, hygiene, health issues, finances, errands, and social life, there is no need to worry, yet. Just make sure they know they can always count on you.
But if you've noticed that they've become frail and prone to falls, they keep forgetting to pay their bills or take medications, or they've become moody and gloomy, it is the time for you to step in. Convincing them to accept help may be hard, but bear in mind that long-term quality of life is better in elderly who have assistance and support of other people.
Consider your parents' needs
Can your parents adequately feed themselves, shower, dress, and groom, move around the house, and use the toilet? The listed activities are known as the Activities of Daily Living (ADLs). These activities fulfill the basic needs of a person to live a dignified and quality life, and they're often used to estimate disability level in the elderly.
If you've answered no to the question, your parents probably need great and everyday help. Adapting the house and investing in equipment such as grab bars for the shower may solve some of the problems and allow them to function independently whatsoever. Still, the chances are that you'll need to be there for them too or to hire professional caregivers.
If the answer is yes, that is great – your parents can meet their most basic needs independently. However, that doesn't mean they don't need your support. You might need to help them with meal preparation, home maintenance, shopping, transportation, managing finances, visiting the doctor, taking medications, and other more advanced activities that are important for normal daily functioning.
Even if your parents are fully independent, expressing your love and support through visiting, calling, and giving small tokens of attention is going to make them feel more beloved and safe.
What can you do to help?
First of all, talk.
You can't just take control of your parents' life. Perhaps you see they're having a hard time pulling life strings, but that doesn't mean you can turn their life upside down and impose whatever you think is good for them. Not only would that hurt their dignity, but you'd also find resistance – remember that the elderly do not accept changes easily. Besides, you are not a parent of theirs now, you are their partner. Talk about what they need, what they find difficult, what bothers them, and what they could use a helping hand with. Collaborate on creating a plan for their future.
Keep your parents safe.
Falls are a major source of injury in the elderly. Combined with medical issues such as osteoporosis and overall frailty, falls pose a great risk of hospitalization and disability. Reduction of home hazards is a significant fall prevention measure, so make sure to remove any rugs and cords your parents could trip over, have stable stair railings, grab bars and non-slippery mats in the shower, and proper lighting in each room of the house.
Help around the house.
Even if your parents are still quite independent, they could probably use your help when it comes to home maintenance. When you visit, you can help them clean the house, prepare meals, or mow the lawn. Make sure that all the appliances work, can be reached easily, and fix anything broken. Help them pay the bills, or do the grocery shopping for them. You can also consider hiring professional services for some of these tasks.
Take care of your parents' health.
Older parents will most likely suffer from chronic diseases, which require proper management and regular doctor visits. It would be best if you could accompany your parents when they're going to their regular checkups. That way, you can have a direct insight into your parents' health status, and the doctor will probably find it easier to explain the nature of the diseases and the treatment plan to you. At home, help your parents control important parameters such as blood pressure, or blood sugar levels. Make sure they take their medications according to the prescriptions.
Mental health is health too.
Older people often experience depression and loneliness, especially if they're single, separated, divorced, or widowed, and have a small social circle. Try visiting your parents as often as you can. Ring every day to make sure everything is alright. Encourage them to spend time with friends, join clubs or activities, and be physically active. It will be beneficial in many aspects.
Don't become a martyr
Kids taking care of their parents experience a lot of issues. Although it brings joy and feels rewarding, caring for an older parent can also be a source of great chronic stress. You most likely have a job, a spouse, children, friends, your own home that needs to be taken care of, and other different activities and responsibilities. On top of that, you now have to be a caregiver, too.
Giving up your life to care for an elderly parent is not a solution. Do as much as you can, and don't do it alone – split the tasks with other family members. Organize and prioritize the time and the activities, and don't forget to maintain your own health and well-being first. After all, how will you help anyone if you end up needing help yourself?
Include your parents in the planning process. Talk about what they need and prefer. Are they capable of living on their own? Should they move in with you, or should you move in with them? Should you hire a professional caregiver? Those are some of the questions that may need to be considered.
In the end, there may come a time when you and your family won't be able to take proper care of your elderly parents. Perhaps they'll need medical supervision, their needs will outweigh your management possibilities, or you simply will not have enough time and energy to deal with their issues. At that point, you should start exploring senior housing options.
Although most of the elderly will reject such an idea at first, do not feel remorse if you choose this as a solution. It doesn't make you a bad kid – on the contrary, you're doing your best to provide your parents healthy aging and well-being. Choose a good senior housing complex, and it will be a safe environment that will provide social and physical activities with maximum and professional care. Just don't forget to stay in touch with them – no matter how good and professional, no caregiver could ever replace your love!
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