A Guide to Caring for Elderly and Aging Parents

What to consider when becoming a caregiver for your aging parent

There comes a point in everyone’s life when someone will have to take over caring for our needs. When it comes to taking over for our parents, there is much to consider. Think about their daily needs, your needs and abilities. What resources are available? How will finances be managed? What physical space is needed in your home to accommodate your parent? These questions can feel overwhelming but, careful consideration will help you to make plans that are best for you and your parent.

Assess the needs of your aging parent

You know that your parent has been struggling for a bit, but understand that they are seriously in need of help. Before offering that help, take a step back and think through carefully what they need. Pay attention to what their daily needs and routines are and what you are capable of doing. Taking care of them could mean providing meals, making sure that their house is cleaned or going grocery shopping for them. It could also mean helping them bathe or get dressed. Understanding what your parent needs is the first step toward providing adequate care. Two areas of help that you should consider are, Activities of Daily Living (ADLs) and Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADLs).

Activities of daily living (ADLs)

Activities of daily living are what we need to do to take care of our health and hygiene such as bathing. Taking care of an aging parent will mean helping them manage these basics throughout the day. You should consider their ability to feed themselves, mobility – especially around stairs and the bathroom, getting dressed, bathing, and maintaining personal hygiene habits.

Instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs)

Instrumental activities of daily living include taking care of the home environment and other daily responsibilities that require more complex thinking. Trouble managing these may be among the first signs that your aging parent needs help. Some IADLs that may require your assistance include grocery shopping, cooking meals, house cleaning and maintenance, transportation and help with bills. Managing these for your parent will help both of you maintain some independence.

Assess your own needs and abilities

After thinking through what your loved one needs, look carefully at your own abilities, situation and needs. What kinds of limits or boundaries will you have to create to take care of yourself and other family members? Does your health allow you to care for someone else? Are you able to visit as often as might be necessary? How will you share living space if you live together and where will you live? Are you willing to give up some of your own lifestyle and independence to care for your parent? What kind of strain will this put on your relationship?

These might seem hard questions to answer but, it is better to think through what being a caregiver for your loved one will mean before major decisions get made.

Learn about supportive resources and groups

There are many resources and support groups that can help. A good caregiver support group can be monumental in helping you navigate all of the challenges of caring for your loved one. Support group networks can be found online, through faith groups, and through medical institutions. Advocates like the National Council on Aging or your local Eldercare department can also help. Depending on your needs, as you research, you will find specific disease-related groups or more generalized resources that can answer lots of questions.

Consider the financial aspect

Costs involved in caring for an aging loved one can vary because of specific health issues but, caregivers should expect to budget for out-of-pocket expenses related to their parent’s care. These cost needs can range from gas in the car for grocery shopping and running other errands, or more substantial expenses such as home adaptions. Some financial cost considerations might also include co-payments for medical care. Research carefully to understand what costs are covered by Medicare and other insurance options. Daily costs such as food, hygiene products and clothing will need to be budgeted for.

Consider their emotional needs

Just as seniors have increased physical needs, they will experience greater emotional needs. As a caregiver, you will have to find ways to be encouraging, engaging and help them manage hardships, change and stress. Seniors often experience feelings of heightened anxiety, isolation and loneliness and have difficulties sleeping.

You can help them by being reassuring and comforting. You can provide authentic activities that help them feel purposeful and give lots of loving attention.

Ensure home safety

With adjustments many homes can be a safe place for the elderly. But before bringing your aging parent to live with you, it is important to thoroughly inspect any living space for changes that will safeguard your loved one. A thorough, thoughtful inspection should include evaluating areas with potential safety hazards such as bathrooms, kitchens, stairways, and outdoor areas. Look for potential fall hazards such as rugs or uneven surfaces. Check for fire hazards and smoke detectors. Look for information about accessibility improvements such as door widening, ramps and other safety additions. After you’ve completed the assessment develop a plan to make these changes, including budgeting and pricing.

Explore additional aging care options

Even if you’ve made the decision to care for your aging parent, there are additional resources that can help you manage. For example, look for a geriatric care manager, usually a nurse or social worker who can help you develop a care plan and find assistance. In-home caregiving services are available for respite or for additional help.

Other options include assisted living facilities, especially for respite care, and senior communities that might allow your aging parent to still maintain their independence. Check with your local Agency on Aging for more resources or care options that can help you and your aging parent.

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