Most of our aging parents dread the thought of “getting stuck in an old folks’ home”. With the wildfire spread of COVID-19 throughout senior facilities, never before has it been so important to re-evaluate your options. 10 tips to caring for aging parents at home delves into the many aspects of this thorny issue.
1. Respect Their Wishes
This is uncharted waters for both of you. They didn’t ask to grow old and may be filled with anxieties and concerns. The expectation of becoming a burden could further highlight their fears. The greatest gift you can offer is to listen and understand their wishes.
Take it slow allowing them the opportunity to express their thoughts and desires. The aging process is more of a marathon as opposed to a sprint. They may not have fully thought through what they really want. They deserve the time to organize their thoughts and feelings.
2. Recognize What's Important to Them
My mother was the consummate gardener with a “green thumb” like no other. Alas, I never received that gene LOL. She loved her job at a little rural greenhouse. It was busy, she got to work with plants and interact with people. For her, life without her plants was unfathomable.
A close family friend “downsized” to a senior community several years ago. It was time and the kids insisted it was “better”. I’m sure it was, except he needed to give away his two beloved canine friends. That’s not him in the photo; however, it represents the need to understand these are not always easy decisions.
Never pressure your parents into doing something they don’t want. Offer suggestions and options. Listen to their responses and encourage dialogue. The best thing to do is keep the conversation open and remain supportive and caring.
3. Realistic Review of Options
Assuming your parents are fairly independent and fully cognitive, what do they really want?
Perhaps they want to “age in place” - in the house they’ve lived in for the past decades. Surrounded by fond memories, a neighbor they’re comfortable with, and their network of friends.
Some renovations may be in order making this easier and safer as they age. This could include hand rails, a shower seat, or a stair lift. What makes sense and will preserve their independence?
Alternatively, they might be ready to downsize relocating into an apartment or retirement community. This would mean less maintenance and more freedom for them. Maybe an assisted living facility makes more sense if their health is in decline.
These types of decisions invoke fear and uncertainty. As a loving daughter / son, your gift is to support and guide them through this process. Listen to their concerns and always keep them involved making the decision.
Being supportive might include scheduling and accompanying them to several retirement facilities. While cost is a concern, more importantly, will they be happy here?
4. Plan for the Future and Remain Flexible
No one knows exactly what the future will bring. That magic 8 ball just isn’t that accurate!
Having said that, seldom do we get spryer as age creeps up. We need to remain flexible and adapt to changing circumstances. For instance, remaining in their home might be preferable, at least until health issues arise.
Mom or dad may have their prized rose garden they putter endless hours away in. However, at some point, the house might become more than they can manage. Even worse, they take a fall or have a stroke and, now, require full-time care.
Most care facilities have long waiting lists. My stepfather was finally ready to go to a senior’s residence. Upon applying, he learned there was an estimated 18 month waiting period. As morbid as it sounds, he had to wait until current residents were, either, transferred into respite or died. A little advance planning would have made things go smoother.
Other resources: https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/getting-your-affairs-order
5. How Much Care is Required?
Assuming your parents are still reasonably healthy, they may be perfectly fine aging in place. At least until this awful pandemic struck the world. Now seniors are told to “shelter-in-place” and avoid going out.
This raises a whole host of issues such as:
On top of that, after all these months, they’re at increasing risk of loneliness and social isolation!
Due to this highly transmissible disease, family gatherings are restricted and, generally, a bad idea. Even visiting is fraught with risk unless you are absolutely 100% confident, you’re healthy and not an asymptomatic carrier.
In Home Assistance
At some point, you may need to add safety fixes around the house.
It could be something as simple as adding grab bars in the bath tub to avoid falls. For safety and comfort, extensive modifications may be required over time. Updating lights so the rooms are brighter. Adding rails to the bed to make it easier to get in and out.
AARP has an excellent resource. It's quite extensive however their “Home Fit Guide” covers all the bases, so to speak. It will make it so you don’t forget anything and it’s a downloadable, printable PDF.
Is a Retirement Home a Good Idea?
The long-term care facilities were struck hard by this virus experiencing many cases and deaths. All indicators point to further outbreaks in the fall (second wave). This disease could be with us for years or even become endemic.
In light of COVID-19, retirement homes tend to be at risk of becoming mini epicenters. If the facility goes into full lockdown, your only contact could be waving through a window or “facetiming”.
You might be wondering if mom or dad would be better off elsewhere. That largely depends upon how events unfold and how closely they adhere to all the safety protocols. If their facility was one of the ones that suffered, that sheds a whole different light on the situation.
This might be an opportune time to consider other options, such as:
The key point is to know how much care do they require and what is the best way to provide it.
6. Share More Time Together
Time is our most precious resource. In 2003, I chose to change jobs and relocate closer to my mother. I believe these were the best years of her life. I know I loved every moment – she really was my best friend. Besides her garden and grandchildren, we did lots of cool things together.
I would spend every weekend with her. We would cruise the flea markets, used book stores, get our hair done or whatever else struck our fancy at the moment.
We planned vacations together such as the year we did our all girls casino road trip. Did I mention how much she loved the slots? Our agenda also included a hotel and spa built over a natural hot spring plus gourmet dining.
I even got her on a plane which I thought I would never do! Years afterward, she still talked fondly and laughed about our adventures!
The real point I’m expressing, life is too short. Our greatest gift is quality time shared with our loved ones.
7. Remember, You're Not Alone!
You become at risk of burnout when you try to do everything yourself. This is especially true if you have assumed a care giver role. Just how do you best manage everything and still take care of yourself?
Maybe hiring an in-home care giver to help is an option. You could still share quality time without being the primary care giver.
You’re not alone. 10 tips to caring for aging parents at home provides thoughts and ideas to manage this difficult chapter of life. Use resources you can find on the internet, books, or whatever you need to help make your job easier.
Depending upon the situation, your spouse can be invaluable support. In some instances, your husband / wife may be in a better position dealing with your parent. They don’t have the same emotional baggage accumulated over a lifetime. If you can function as a tag team, you gain some separation and life balance.
Your parent might feel more comfortable relating with them. By bringing a more objective perspective, your parent might even pay more attention to what they say. It’s kind of messed up when you think about it.
Caring for an aging parent requires open discussion and alignment with your partner. They can be your greatest support. If you’re not on the same page it can lead to ongoing conflict and marital strain. Know this, your aging parents will see or feel it as well.
Dealing with Siblings
While everyone is entitled to their own opinion, reaching a consensus of what’s best for mom or dad can create deep family conflict. Seldom will you, your brothers, sisters, and the respective partners all agree. Throw in some well-meaning nieces and nephews and the situation is ripe for misunderstandings and family feuds.
Almost inevitably one will argue a “retirement home” is the best option. Another might believe they’d be happier aging in place. All to quickly, these views can become polarized.
It’s often said “Money is the root of all evil”. When it comes to downsizing from a house, financial assets, money, accumulated possessions, etc. the situation becomes more heated. No matter how much money is involved, it doesn’t bring out the best in people.
Even trying to coordinate a family meeting can be fraught with difficulty, especially when siblings live across the country. In many respects, it’s like trying to herd cats. The best you might be able to do is a video chat or just keep them up to date and express your parent’s wishes.
Remember, this can be a difficult time for all.
8. Set Boundaries
One of the most difficult things is setting boundaries with an aging parent. On one hand you want to jump in and help, yet you’re eroding their autonomy. Somehow, just as they did when we were growing up, you need to allow them to make their own mistakes. It’s not fair to try and run their lives.
One example was my stepfather decided to trade in his almost paid for truck (in excellent condition, I might add) to get something shinier and newer. Talk about a stupid decision! But that was what he wanted.
At the other extreme is “learned helplessness” when they expect you to take care of everything. Using another example of my stepfather, he needed a new set of dentures and couldn’t afford them. He looked to me for help. Highly unfair as, at the time, I wasn’t in a position to pay for them, even thought he expected it.
9. Dealing with Stubbornness
We’ve all heard the stereotypical sweet loving grandparent doting on their grandchildren. Unfortunately, it seems just as many have become stubborn, obstinate, and cantankerous old farts.
Some revert to almost child-like behaviour becoming rude and petty. They lose whatever filters they had making hurtful comments as they speak their minds.
I hope I never feel the anger and frustration they must live with. No one ever said growing old was a walk in the park. Authority and roles have shifted. Growing up, they used to tell you what to do. Now the situation is reversed and their defenses are on high alert.
Interestingly, they’re more open to receiving advice from a complete stranger. This could be a doctor, an attorney, or almost anyone other than you. How idiotic as you may be the only person with their best interest in mind.
Further to this, they know exactly how to lash out and manipulate you. They know your every hot button and how to get their way.
As much as you love your parents, don’t become a victim to their emotional blackmail.
10. Deal with the Financial Equation
This might be the touchiest topic of the 10 tips to caring for aging parents at home. Money is a sensitive topic and almost taboo. They have done just fine all their lives and don’t think they need any help.
The problem is maybe a bill payment (or two) was missed. They can’t keep track of things like they used to when it comes to utility bills, insurance, taxes, etc. This could be when you have to start gently stepping in.
Of even greater concern is the prevalence of senior fraud and the risk of getting scammed. Tips to prevent retiree and senior scams provides more information on this.
Just remember to go slowly, stay patient and always keep them involved.
In a perfect world, money wouldn’t be an issue. Seldom is that the case. You should be aware of any and all means of financial assistance.
For instance, there may be government grants available to retrofit their home for comfort and safety. The NHI has a great article listing many links to resources you can check into.
Financial Checklist Discussion
Every senior should have completed a financial checklist to get their affairs in order. This is an incredibly important and sometimes difficult conversation to have. This includes their will, power of attorney, insurance, and other considerations.
Alzheimer’s and dementia destroy cognitive ability and a living will (or durable power of attorney) should also be done. For more information see how to gain inner peace and reduce anxiety with a living will.
Closing Thoughts - 10 Tips to Caring for Aging Parents at Home
There are quite a few things that you need to think about when it comes to helping care for your elderly mother and / or father. As the world continues to change, decisions made have to be adaptable to changing circumstances, such as COVID-19.
Making the best choices involves everyone’s involvement and lots of patience. It's not easy having to admit you can’t do something on your own anymore. Maybe thinking about how you will feel when your time comes might help to soften your responses just a little.
This could be the most important job of your life. Taking care of the people that took care of you for so long. With caring and love, it will all work out in the end.