With people living longer, there are more adult children providing care to an aging parent. A study conducted by The National Alliance for Caregiving and the AARP Public Policy Institute concluded an estimated 34.2 million American adults (14.3% of all U.S. adults) have served as an unpaid caregiver to an older adult within the prior 12 months (2015). The study later determined on average, caregivers of an older adult spend 24.1 hours per week providing care.
As a Geriatric Care Manager/Aging Life Care Expert™, I am often consulted by adult children who are increasingly concerned about their parents. Generally, the adult children live out of state and/or have busy lives (work and raising a family = sandwich generation) and feel completely helpless managing the increasing needs of their parents. While some children are firm with their parents and initiate services that they deem necessary, most children are affected by the parent/child relationship while battling their awareness that they must step in to keep their parents safe. I have heard clients say, “Mom will not listen to me” or “I can’t tell Dad to do that”. If you are in this situation, you are not alone.
The term “Parenting your Parents” is not intended to construct the idea that your parents are children or that you are their dictator, but rather to depict the emotional struggle that many adult children experience when they begin to provide more care for their aging parents. Your parents have a personal legacy that must be respected. We cannot; however, neglect the emotional toll that occurs when an aging parent begins to change and are at risk of hurting themselves or be taken advantage of. There are several factors to consider when caring for aging parents.
- If you know your parent will need more help in the future, do not wait for a crisis.
- When you’re in a crisis situation, you tend to make quick decisions based on need, which may be different than the decisions you would make if you had more time to research.
- Start discussions with your parents. It is important to involve your parents in the planning of their future as much as possible. Knowing their desires while they are able to express them allows you a better opportunity to align your decisions with their wants and needs.
- Do NOT promise a parent that they will stay home forever. It may not be a feasible option. Check into available elder placement options in your area. If your parents are up to it, schedule a tour. Most facilities will also provide lunch in addition to the tour.
- Engage a Geriatric Care Manager/ Aging Life Care Expert™ early on:
- By bringing a professional in early, your parents can build a rapport and the care manager can understand your parents true baseline.
- Care managers are experts at avoiding crisis situations if possible, but if a crisis does occur, they can assist with any arrangements needed and provide guidance and support.
- Often times your parents are more receptive to the suggestions from an “outsider”.
- Prepare legal documents such as power of attorney and advanced directives. There may also be government programs your parents are eligible for. An Elder Law Attorney with or without a Geriatric Care Manager can assist getting through these processes.
- Ensure finances are adequately protected. A financial advisor and/or an Elder Law Attorney can assist in preserving and protecting assets.
Understand Your Role:
- It is exceptionally difficult when roles are reversed and you may be afraid to make certain decisions, as to avoid upsetting your parents. It is important to remember that when they lack the ability to advocate for themselves, they need you to advocate for them.
- Your parents may (and probably will) push back. If a parent is making bad decisions that could lead to serious consequences, you have to look past their anger and know that you are acting in their best interests.
- If your parents can make some good decisions, allow those decisions. You also want them to feel like they are a part of the process. Try suggesting things in a way that allows them to think it is their idea. Be creative.
- Caring for your parents is a difficult task and cannot be done alone. Seek support from family members and friends. Set up a calendar and allow others to plug themselves in to help. There are several websites that help with organization such as Lotsa Helping Hands www.lotsahelpinghands.com and Alzheimer’s Association www.alz.org/care/alzheimers-dementia-care-calendar.asp
- Do something for yourself and take care of your health. Go to your doctor’s appointments, get exercise or get a massage. You cannot take care of your parents if you don’t take care of yourself.
- Go to a support group with other adult children that are facing the same struggles. They often have advice or resources that would be useful to you.
Keep in mind, your parent is losing a part of their independence, which is difficult for anyone, at any age. To find an Aging Life Care Expert in your area, go to www.aginglifecare.org
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