Articles Good To Know

Expert Tips on How To Care for an Aging Parent

Senior woman in medical mask with social worker visiting her at home

By Cheryl Maguire

Ashley, age 44 was awoken by a loud thud. She sprinted to the source of the sound only to find her mother, age 68, lying on the living room floor next to the couch. She began to panic when she saw the pool of blood beneath her.

Ashley’s mother had an 8-inch laceration in her shin from hitting it on the wheel of her walker due to swelling from lymphedema. Since she’s diabetic, wound care was critical. Ashley had to manage it daily. She also was anxious about the possibility of her falling again since she has Spinal Stenosis and requires care. These are some of the challenges she experiences being a caregiver to her mother.

According to Bureau of Labor Statistics there are over 40 million people in the United States that provide unpaid eldercare. A recent survey by the Pew Research Center found that most adult caregivers provide help with errands, housework, or home repairs and over half also offer emotional support. 

Caring for an adult parent can be challenging but others have also found this job to be rewarding. Experts and adult caregivers offer the following advice to people who are struggling with their role caring for their adult parents.

Start Discussions About Care Early

No one wants to think about needing care when they are older, but the best time to discuss this issue is when you don’t need it. 

“It is important to develop a future care plan with family and/or friends so that you can express your future wishes in care,” says Dr. Lisa Hollis-Sawyer, Gerontology Program Coordinator and professor at Northeastern Illinois University.

You can also prevent conflict among family members by creating a care plan that everyone agrees with before the stress of needing one is added into the situation.

“By having difficult conversations with your parents before there is a crisis you can avoid most issues that cause problems,” says Dr. Gayle Byck, founder and principal advocate In Tune Health Advocates.

Create Advance Directives 

Once you start discussing care options with your parents, you should also make sure that all legal paperwork is competed such as health care power of attorney (HCPOA), a living will, and financial power of attorney.

“It is a gift to yourself and to those you love to make your wishes known and designate someone to carry them out for you,” says Dr. Byck.

Powers of attorney documents are the easiest way to avoid an expensive process called guardianship,” says attorney Colin Smith of Dallas-based Colin Smith Law PLLC.  “Guardianship is the legal process by which an adult’s civil rights are taken away and given to another. It is expensive and involves hearings, court-appointed lawyers, and possibly time the disabled person does not have.”

Smith says, “Power of attorney documents are the best way to make your wishes known to your family ahead of time. Otherwise, the family may argue over what the elderly or disabled person ‘would have wanted,’ and that leads to expensive guardianship.

Delegate Responsibilities Among Family Members

If you have siblings or another family member that can assist with caregiving, then assigning specific tasks will help ease the process for everyone involved. 

“Consider holding a family meeting to discuss and identify the needs of the parent and how family members or close friends might be able to contribute their time and resources,” says Dr. Rebecca Cowan counselor and professor at Walden University.

Dr. Hollis-Sawyer explains that when you create clear expectations of care duties to other people involved with caring it will help you to feel less overwhelmed and burnout. The “rules of care” will also prevent caregivers from feeling burdened. 

“Set weekly appointments to discuss what you are experiencing as a caregiver and your associated caregiver needs. The opportunity to share your feelings with others can help alleviate feelings of anxiety and potentially boost physical and mental health,” says Dr. Hollis-Sawyer.

Learn About Benefits 

Your parents may be entitled to benefits that would help cover the cost of care. If your parent was in the military then they may qualify for VA Aid.

“Be sure your parent is receiving the benefits they are entitled to. One example is the VA Aid and Assistance program that is not widely known about. These programs provide financial support for seniors to enable them to pay for assistance with the care that their children are currently providing. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, there are tons of resources available to seniors but you have to ask,” says Angie Szumlinski, Director of Risk Management for Health Cap Risk Management and Insurance.

Corporations sometimes offer benefits for eldercare. You can ask about benefits at your place of work or research information on the website Families and Work Institute which is a nonprofit organization. AARP has a Medicare Resource Center that explains eligibility and provides a question and answer tool.

Be Organized

Providing care for your parent usually involves keeping track of doctor’s appointments, medications, and maintaining hygiene. Being organized will help everyone involved in caretaking be less stressed and accomplish their given job. 

Suzanne Asaff Blankenship, author of the book, How To Take Care of Old People Without Losing Your Marbles  explains that organization is the best defense for the stress and frustration of eldercare. She says, “When the inevitable emergency occurs, being organized helps to keep you out of panic mode.”

Dr. Hollis-Sawyer discusses types of technology that help with organization. She says, “You can use phone apps, home voice technology (like Amazon Alexa), and other computer programs (an Excel spreadsheet) to help streamline care activities with others. You can also use self-care reminders like the Calm phone app,” 

Be Patient

If your parent has memory issues or you need to repeat the same activities numerous times then your patience will be tested.

“It is important to have patience. If you feel yourself losing your patience, such as constantly repeating yourself or having to do a task over and over, you need to step back and regroup. Go outside, take a deep breath, and get some fresh air or take a little walk so you can settle down. Never push it to the limit where you lose your patience and start to yell, that can turn into a bad situation,” says James Colozzo, author of the book You Got To Do What You Got To Do: My Experience As A Caregiver Taking Care Of My Parents For Over Twenty Years.

Asaff Blankenship says, “You should realize that eldercare is a marathon, not a sprint. You will need various tools in your tool bag throughout the journey.”

Focus on the Rewards

Caring for your parent gives you the chance to develop a stronger relationship with them. Dr. Hollis-Sawyer explains that when you provide care for your parent it is an opportunity to show younger generations in the family how to engage in caregiving activities.

“Try to focus on the positive aspects of your daily care activities. Changing the schema of caregiving tasks from a negative to positive perspective can help reduce your feelings of anxiety, guilt, and stress that can overshadow the great accomplishments you are achieving in others’ lives through your care efforts,” says Dr. Hollis-Sawyer.

Side Bars

What are some challenges that caregivers face?

When caring for an adult parent, people encounter many challenges such as:

  • Additional financial responsibilities
  •  Emotional stress or burnout
  • Struggling with role reversal
  •  Feeling guilty about not being able to help or provide all the necessary care
  • Navigating the healthcare system
  • Needing to act as an advocate for your parent
  • Time constraints
  • Disagreements about care among family members
  • Parents may feel like a burden to their child
  • Parents may feel embarrassed about their issues and not ask for help when needed
  • Maintaining their parents’ hygiene 

Ways to Take Care of Yourself (Self-Care)

When people focus on caring for others, they often forget to take care of themselves. But you won’t be an effective caregiver without addressing your own needs first. 

  • Ask Friends and Family for Help
  • Enlist Religious or Community Groups for Help
  • Hire Professional Help like a housekeeper or professional advocate
  • Make sleep a priority and sleep 7-8 hours at night 
  • Eat Healthily
  • Exercise
  • Do less by saying no to unnecessary obligations
  • Mediation 
  • Take Breaks
  • Lower your expectations for housework or other time-consuming tasks
  • Be organized
  • Participate in support groups
  • See a counselor
  • Seek emotional support from friends, family or support groups
  • Practice gratitude
  • Stretch or practice yoga
  • Go outside to get fresh air and sunshine
  • Have a spa day
  • Socialize with friends and family

Ways to be Organized in Eldercare

Suzanne Asaff Blankenship, author of the book, How To Take Care of Old People Without Losing Your Marbles  stresses the importance of being organized when caring for your adult parents. She offers the following tips:

  • Keep copies of the powers of attorney (financial and medical) and the advanced directive documents in a readily accessible place.
  • Create a list of all medical providers’ contact information. 
  • Create a binder with medical history and visit summaries, medications, and copies of insurance cards
  • Share your contact information with your care recipients friends and doctors. Ask them to stay in touch with you should they sense your elder needs anything or is in danger.
  • Create a binder with your care recipients bank information, investment advisor, insurance agent, checkbook location, and passwords

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Cheryl Maguire holds a Master of Counseling Psychology degree. Her writing has been published in The New York Times, Parents Magazine, AARP, Healthline, Grown and Flown, Your Teen Magazine, Good Life Family Magazine, and many other publications.

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