How to Relieve the Stress of Caring for an Aging Parent: Amy O'Rourke at TEDxOrlando
How to Deal With Elderly Parents when You're an Only Child
As an only child, you will be responsible for meeting your parents' needs as they age. This includes fixing things around the house, taking them to appointments, being available to talk, and any other needs that arise. Planning in advance can help you minimize the stress, but caring for your parents may still be a difficult task. Approach it with compassion, and enjoy spending time with them.
Making a Plan
Think ahead.It is a good idea to start thinking about care for your parents long before they need it. This will give you and your parents time to prepare physically, emotionally, and financially. Talk openly with your parents about the fact that they are aging, but be sensitive.
- You might start a discussion by saying something like “I know you are in good health, and will be for a long time to come, but have you thought about what we’ll do as you get older?”
Ask tough questions.Your parents might be quick to assure you that they are fine. Accepting that you are aging is not easy for everyone, and avoiding the topic is all too often how people cope. Asking your parents specific questions will force them to think about real issues around their age.
- You might ask legal questions like “Have you made a will?”
- You could ask health questions like “When was your last doctor’s visit? Were there any concerns?”
- You should also ask your parents if they have a financial plan for their future.
Look into community services.There are many community service agencies available to child caregivers and their parents. Many of these services may be covered by your parents’ insurance plans. Services may include adult day care centers, home health aides, home-delivered meals, transportation, skilled nursing, mental health support services, and financial advocacy and guidance services.
- If your parent is a veteran, home health care coverage, financial support, home care services and more are available. Some of these services may be free to your veteran parent through the Veteran’s Administration, while others require a co-payment. This depends on many factors including your parents military discharge status, when they served, income status, and if there are any disabilities attached to their service discharge. Check with your local VA to find out if your parent is eligible.
Help your parents make appropriate arrangements.Your parents may not understand how to make the arrangements needed. Things like creating a will or analyzing finances might be difficult. The difficulty is often enough to deter people from completing those essential tasks.
- Help your parents do an online will, or analyze their budget. If you are unsure how to do that, schedule an appointment with a lawyer or an accountant.
Decide what level of care is needed.Depending on your parent’s age and health, the care they require will be different. Maybe they need as little as stopping by a couple of times a month to move heavy things, or possibly they need round the clock care. Your parent may not be capable of determining their needs, and you will have to use your best judgement.
- For example, if your parents are very mobile and mentally alert, they may need very little help from you.
- If your parents are forgetful and often leave the stove on, or lock themselves out of the house, you might consider more extensive care. This could include hiring a home health professional, living with your parents, or having your parents live with you.
Identify what types of caregiving they require.Take some time to talk with your parents and find out what specific type of caregiving they need. Make a list and then look over it to identify what you are and are not capable of doing on your own.
- Be realistic about your capabilities and the amount of time you can realistically set aside to help with caregiving. Anything you cannot do should be designated to a qualified caregiver of your parents choosing.
Ask other people for help.You can’t do everything and solve every problem on your own. You’ll need some help from family, friends, healthcare professionals, and community agencies. Trying to do everything yourself will put all of the emotional weight on your shoulders, and you will quickly burn out. This will make it harder or even impossible to provide quality care to your parents. Therefore, it is important to ask for help whenever you need it.
- Keep in mind that people you ask for help will likely be honored and happy that you asked them.
- Make sure to include your parents by asking them who they would like to seek help from.
- Review the list of needs you developed with your parents to determine what specific things they may need help with.
- Be willing to point out the areas that you need extra help with.
- Make sure that anyone you ask for help understands what is most helpful to you and your parents.
Dedicate time to your parents.You should schedule in specific times to physically see your parents. This will allow you to help them with things around the house, and to keep an accurate watch over their health and self-sufficiency. It will also reinforce the bond you have with your parents.
- An example might be to go to your parent’s house every other Sunday for dinner.
- Sometimes this will not be possible due to living a long distance from your parents.
Set healthy limits on the amount of care you can provide.In order to do a good job caring for your parents, you have to care for yourself. This means giving yourself time to relax, process things, and reenergize from time to time. Take time to go somewhere you enjoy, or be home alone, or even just see friends. For an only child dealing with elderly parents, this is particularly important.
Hire in-home assistance.There are many reasons that you might not be able to provide constant care for your parents. You may not have the space for them to live with you, and could be prevented by family or other obligations from living with them. You could also need to work even if you do live in the same house as your parents, and be required to be out of the home for large chunks of time. In this case, hiring in home assistance might be a good choice. It could be anything from hiring someone to clean up the house, to hiring an in home health care provider.
Schedule visits and calls with your parents.Staying in touch with your parents is essential to having a good relationship. In most cases, your parents understand that you have your own life and obligations, but they still want to spend time with you. Giving them some of your time can help them remain emotionally secure and comfortable.
- It might be a good rule of thumb to invite your parents over for family game night from time to time, or to have dinners regularly.
Live with your parents.In some cases, your parent(s) may need more support than can be offered by phone calls or occasional visits. If this is your situation, you should consider what living arrangements can be made to put you and your parent(s) under the same roof. The options are pretty straightforward. Either you can move into your parent’s home, or move them into yours.
- This is often the case if one parent dies and leaves the other parent alone.
Be encouraging and understanding.As your parents age, they will be faced with many frustrations. This can include being less physically capable, facing their mortality, and feeling as though the world has left them behind. You will need to be patient and understand the struggles your parents face. Talk to them on a regular basis and make an effort to be kind.
- Never talk to your parents in a demeaning tone, especially about something that they can no longer do, such as drive.
Keep your finances in order.You have to keep your finances in order if you intend to help anyone else financially. This means keeping your job and paying your bills first. With your excess cash, you can help your parents pay the bills they need.
Keep records of how you spend your parents’ money.Many times, your parents will not need your money, but will need your help managing their own money. Whenever you manage your parents’ money, you should keep records of how the money was spent. Keep a copy of the receipts and file them after every transaction.
- This will help to avoid any misunderstandings or mistrust about how your parents’ money is spent.
Review finances with your parents.Even if your parents have a hard time managing their finances, they do deserve to understand where the money is going. They should also have a say in how the money gets spent. Have a talk about finances with your parents each month and discuss what needs payed, and how much excess money they will have to spend as they please. You should also make arrangements to have access to things such as your parents’ safety deposit box.
Set limits.Whether you are spending your money to keep your parents afloat in their older years, or simply giving them your time and energy, you will need to set limits. You have your own needs and wants in life that are also valid. Many people have families of their own, or a career that they are passionate about. While it is okay to dedicate time and resources to your parents, you have to create boundaries and make them clear.
- For example, you might decide that you will pay your parents’ electric bill, but you will not pay for an extended cable package.
Coping with Aging Parents
Expect negativity.Your parents may be unappreciative of your efforts to care for them. This can be particularly true with parents that suffer from dementia. The combination of stress about getting older and needing care, and the neurological changes that occur with dementia, makes it difficult (sometimes even impossible) for parents to recognize and appreciate what you are doing for them.
- Even though your parents may not appreciate your efforts, it is important that you recognize and appreciate your own efforts.
Keep in mind why you are caring for your parent.If you are caring for an aging parent, it is likely because you have some love or attachment to that parent. Keep this in mind as things get rough. You have chosen to take on the responsibility of making the rest of their life as good as it can be, and you should take pride in that.
Incorporate self-care into your life.As you become immersed in helping your parents, you may forget to take care of yourself. This may lead to burnout and a feeling of being disconnected from other people. Watch for signs that you are becoming overwhelmed or stressed, and address your negative emotions. Some ways you might take care of yourself include:
- Talking to someone. Talking to someone, such as a friend or a therapist, can help you to relieve stress and better understand emotions, feelings, and situations.
- Journaling. Writing things down give you the chance to reflect on situations that are bothering you. During and after writing, you may have better insight and identify solutions to issues that you were unable to identify before.
- Starting a daily ritual. Set aside anywhere from 5 minutes to 30 minutes each day that is just for you. Use this time to pray, meditate, practice yoga, do deep breathing, go for a walk in nature, or to do something else that is meaningful to you.
- Joining a support group. You could get involved with your church, a social club, or another community organization. The more you are able to develop your social support network, the better off you will be.
Take a break.You will need to take a break sometimes. Whether it’s to go out to a movie, sneak in a vacation, or just walk around the block, you need some “me time.” Remember that this isn’t selfish or self-serving. It is imperative for you to keep your own sanity so that you may continue caring for your aging parent(s).
How can I deal with my aging mother who refuses to communicate with me?
- Handle topics about aging with a gentle tone and be understanding.
- Enjoy the time you have to spend with your parents.
- You may need to consider putting your parent(s) in a nursing home if they need more assistance than you can provide.
Video: Overcoming Being Overwhelmed with Difficult Aging Parents
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