Posted on January 21, 2016 by Steve Morgan
As parents age, their needs grow while their ability to care for themselves declines. This is especially true when a parent lives alone. Unfortunately, many don’t think about how they will care for an aging parent until they’re forced to make a decision.
They may notice Mom isn’t getting around like she used to – that her balance and strength are declining. The lack of social interaction that comes with living alone is beginning to affect her mind, and she seems resigned and more forgetful than usual.
Her children recognize that she needs help, but they’re not sure what to do or how to help. If they live nearby, they may try to care for her themselves. If not, they may try to contract a home care provider or move her to a senior living community close to where they live.
Chances are, your family will someday have to answer the question: “What are we going to do about Mom?” Many will choose for the family to provide care for her.
It is important to understand the amount of time required to meet the needs of an aging family member. Here are some questions to consider before committing to the role of family caregiver.
1. Have you started the conversation?
Being a caregiver for an aging parent can begin with small, simple tasks that can quickly grow to become very demanding. Once things become difficult, they tend to get harder. The sooner you start the conversation with your parent and family, the easier it will be for all involved to make decisions about Mom’s well-being. Make sure to include your spouse, children and siblings from the beginning so no one feels left out. Know your parent’s wishes before assuming the role of caregiver. They may prefer not to have a family member look after them, so understanding their wishes up front is beneficial for everyone.
2. Do you understand the challenges of being a caregiver?
Think about your current responsibilities and be honest with yourself about whether you can give your parent the care and attention he or she needs. There’s no question you’ll do the best you can, but are you the right person to care for them? Remember, good intentions don’t always lead to good outcomes.
Make sure you grasp the scope of how being a caregiver may change and disrupt your daily life in addition to your relationships. Being a family caregiver changes the normal roles of parent and child and can cause a great deal of stress, frustration and, sometimes, embarrassment. Your immediate family can also experience feelings of neglect and emotional disconnection if a large portion of your time is spent looking after someone outside of the home.
3. Are you prepared to bring in outside help if you are unable to manage?
Many families choose to employ a professional in-home caregiver, which can present a unique set of responsibilities. Are you prepared to cover if a caregiver is sick or doesn’t show up? Will Mom or Dad be comfortable with different people coming in and out of their home every day? Will the companionship of a hired caregiver be enough to satisfy your parent’s social needs?
While a professional caregiver can assist your parent with their daily needs, there may still be other chores to manage that fall outside of their responsibilities like lawn care and home maintenance.
4. Does living at home really make Mom or Dad more independent?
Many people equate living at home with independence. But studies show isolated, shut-apart living is not living well. It can affect mental, physical and emotional well-being. There are also safety concerns that arise related to physical mobility, medication management, self-care, cooking and driving.
Independence means having choices and control in life, and not needing to rely on the availability of friends and family for basic daily needs.
5. Will things get better?
Caring for an aging parent – or making decisions about a parent’s care – can be an overwhelming experience. As an aging adult’s medical, physical and cognitive abilities change, so does the level of assistance they require.
As your family weighs your options, it’s important that everyone has a clear vision of what success looks like. The ideal solution will benefit your parent’s health and well-being, while maintaining harmony and balance for the entire family.