Are your parents aging and reaching the point where they need assistance with daily tasks and activities? Well, you’re not alone. According to Pew Research, about 23% of adults between the ages of 45 and 64 are caregivers to aging adults, and nine in ten are providing care for a relative.
This is a common struggle that many face, especially adult children. The most important thing to do is start preparing and learning early so that the stress of it all doesn’t fall on your shoulders all at once.
If you are planning to care for your parents throughout their elder years or help them learn their options, then keep reading to learn more about how to prepare for this time period without sacrificing your own sanity.
Assess Their Current Situation
The first step to approaching the topic of aging with your elderly parents is to take a step back and assess their current needs. Reflect on their current behaviors and situation and make a plan for how you’re going to approach the subject with them. A few questions to consider include:
- Is there family nearby in case of an emergency? Who is their closest support system?
- Is their current home safe as they possibly lose mobility?
- Are there medical facilities within a reasonable distance? Are they able to get there on their own?
- How’s their cognitive health? Do they have a reliable short-term memory?
- Are they able to care for themselves? I.e. prepare meals, practice good hygiene, communicate their needs.
- Do they have regular social interaction with other people?
These questions will help you discover how your parents are currently doing and how quickly you need to act as a team to ensure that they are still living a quality life. Once you’ve reviewed and made some notes, you can decide A) if there’s anyone else in your family to consult and work with and B) how to begin the conversation with your parents. It’s important to have the facts ahead of time before engaging in a sometimes frustrating and difficult conversation, especially if your parents are stubborn.
Discuss Their Health
Unfortunately, aging inevitably comes with health complications for most adults. It doesn’t matter what age your parents are when it comes to making sure they have a clean bill of health and that they’re up to date on tests and procedures.
Work with them to create a calendar to stay up to date on necessary appointments and keep their medical information in one place. It’s important to stay organized in case you have to access their information. Also, ask them to update you on their health so that you’re in the loop.
One topic surrounding health that’s important to be aware of is cancer. There are many cancers that begin to present themselves at a late age, including rare forms of lung cancer. Those with long latency periods mean that exposure to the carcinogen typically happens a long period of time before the cancer is diagnosed.
For example, mesothelioma cancer which is caused by asbestos exposure has a latency period of 10-50 years before the typical diagnosis. It’s important to pay close attention to the signs to better the mesothelioma prognosis, giving the patient the best chances to improve with early detection. This is also the case for other cancers; the earlier the detection the better.
Be on the lookout for chest pain, shortness of breath, fatigue, and weight loss in your aging parents. If you notice any of these symptoms it’s important to visit the doctor to determine if it’s cancer or a serious health condition.
Additionally, it’s crucial to discuss memory loss diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease or dementia with your parents before they possibly begin to experience symptoms. Both of these can come on quickly and greatly affect their quality of life.
Work with the doctor to see if there’s a history of it in your family bloodline and determine a plan of action should they be diagnosed one day. Early detection is critical, so pay attention to any signs of daily memory loss, difficulty completing tasks, time or place confusion or trouble with speaking or writing.
The health of your parents as they age is of the utmost importance, so work with them to understand why they need to regularly visit the doctor and learn about their health care options.
Create A Safe Space
If your parents own their house and plan to stay there and care for themselves, it’s important to evaluate their home safety and make any changes that might be necessary.
It’s imperative that your parents have a safe physical and mental environment to live in. Evaluate their home situation and audit what’s safe and what isn’t. Is there a lot of housework that needs to be done? Do they live in a home with a lot of stairs? Are the walkways wide enough for a wheelchair or walker? These are just a few things to consider.
Simple fixes include adding non-stick mats to their shower or tub, removing rugs that slip around, placing non-slip treads on steps, installing railings throughout the house, and replacing old light fixtures with brighter ones.
Consider some affordable home DIYs that could help your parents live safer while remaining in their beloved home. However, if it gets to the point where their home is too unsafe, it’s time to speak with them about alternate accommodations.
While uncomfortable to discuss, everyone will leave this earth at some point. Even though we cannot predict how or when that will happen, we can plan ahead and prepare the best we can. For aging adults, this means thinking ahead to end-of-life care and learning about the options before it gets to that point.
Speak with your parents about different senior living arrangements that they could explore to comfortably live. Nursing homes, senior living communities, and home care are all great options but they often come with a stigma. Older adults don’t want to admit that they need help and give up their independence, but sometimes it’s absolutely necessary.
If possible, explore these options with your parents before they need to commit to a decision. Plan visits to local senior living communities or nursing homes to get a sense of what your parents might like best if it comes down to relocating to one. Having an idea of what they’ll be like beforehand will make the decision much smoother.
Some elderly folks may begin to lose cognitive function and no longer be able to handle their own finances. This is completely normal, but it’s crucial to talk about finances before this occurs so that the person taking charge isn’t blindsided by anything surprising.
Work with your parents to understand their financial situation and learn about how they can continue their lifestyle habits. This is a topic that not everyone has experience or knowledge in, so seek the help of a financial advisor if necessary to make sure your parents can afford their cost of living without any struggle.
Seek Help From Outside Resources
This is a stressful time for everyone involved, so don’t be afraid to seek help. There are plenty of national and local resources available to assist with aging care and help seniors continue to live their best lives. There are also resources for caregivers, like support groups and nonprofit organizations. Visit the Health And Human Services Aging page to learn more about how you can assist your aging parents during this time.