It’s sometimes hard to accept that your parents are getting older and frail. As children grow into adults, they’re forced to watch as the people who they looked up to and who looked after them slowly decline. It’s also difficult for the parents, who have to cope with new limitations and concerns that they’d likely never considered before.
The good news is that you can help your parents to take on these new challenges with dignity. Ideally, they’ll be able to stay as healthy and as independent as possible, for as long as they can.
Assess Their Needs
One of the first steps to take when your parents need a helping hand is to determine what they need. Otherwise, you might be overwhelmed because you’re not sure what their needs are and how you can help them. But once you know the problems, you and your family can face them.
Think about their everyday life and what challenges they might face. Here are some questions that you might consider:
- Is their home safe and easy for them to navigate?
- Are they able to look after themselves when it comes to their hygiene, regular household chores, and meal preparation?
- How is their cognitive and physical health?
- Do they need medication?
- How are their social needs?
- Is your family able to support them when necessary?
Write these questions down and your answers. If it’s appropriate, talk it through with your family and your parents especially. They may be able to think of things that you can’t. But bear in mind that some parents may try to put a good face on things.
Beware of Being Over-Controlling
Speaking of involving your parents in their own care, it’s important to resist the temptation to take over completely. People don’t suddenly turn helpless when they get older, and someone who’s fairly healthy and who isn’t suffering from a condition that reduces their cognitive function wouldn’t appreciate being treated like a child.
Even if your parents do need the extra care, imagine being in their situation. People want to hold onto their independence and dignity if they can, and it’s best to do all you can to help them. This is an important aspect of their emotional, mental, and even physical health.
However, sometimes your parents do genuinely need more help than they’re willing to expect. In this case, recognize that it may need more than one conversation. If the situation isn’t urgent, then there’s no need to force any drastic changes.
Start by being helpful and understanding, doing small things. When talking to your parents about their care, either immediately or in the future, help them to see you as a partner. One thing to avoid is suddenly introducing huge changes without any discussion.
For example, even your parents need extra help at home, don’t just hire a nurse or a cleaner without discussing it with them. This could be viewed as a huge invasion of their privacy and their agency. Something like this could alienate your parents and make them less willing to accept any necessary changes.
This even applies to their physical health problems. Many people as they get older start to lose their hearing. Rather than just swooping in and trying to fix it without involving them, help your parents to understand what’s going on. Show them hearing loss information so that they can be as heavily involved in their care as possible.
Care For Yourself
It’s understandable that you’d want to help your parents as much as possible. On the other hand, you also need to take care of yourself. Your health and circumstances may not allow you to physically care for them in the way that they need.
As much as you may want to help, it’s not always possible. Also, even if your circumstances do allow you to help, you need to take care of yourself. Caring for aging parents, especially if they’re suffering from debilitating or terminal illnesses is incredibly stressful.
As well as being emotionally difficult, caring for someone is physically demanding. It takes up a lot of time and can be back-breaking work. You may need to lift a grown adult to help them to get washed and dressed. This isn’t work to do on your own, and can be dangerous.
If you’re caring for your parents, as well as juggling the other responsibilities of your life, it’s easy to get burnt out. If things get too much for you, you might not be able to help your parents or yourself. Make sure that you have the support that you need as well.