Aging is an inevitable part of life. As our parents age, some of their caregiving responsibilities start to fall on us. With age, physical ailments begin to arise along with cognitive decline. This can affect their quality of life and their ability to live independently.
If you’ll be caring for your parents in their senior years, there are several things you should take into account to ensure their welfare. Eldercare means taking your loved one’s emotional, mental, and physical well-being into consideration. Let’s go over some of our tips for successful care-giving and how to deal with the stress of caring for elderly parents.
#1 Have the Caregiving Conversation Early
Discussing your parents’ wishes regarding their care as soon as possible is important. We know it can feel morbid or uncomfortable, but it’s much better to have the discussion ahead of time, so you can ensure that you’re respecting their wishes.
Do they want to stay in their home as long as possible? Does their insurance cover in-home care, or can they afford private pay? How do they feel about assisted living?
Sit your parents down and talk to them about their expectations and wishes. Just make sure that you are also advocating on your behalf. Be honest about your limitations, time constraints, and ability to care for your parents.
Some people may be fine with asking for help early on, and not everyone wants their parents to move in with them. Either way, it's still important to find a good support system and care plan as soon as you can, not when it's too late.
#2 Make Safety a Priority When Caring for Your Parents
Caring for your parents as they age will require special precautions on your part. Especially if you are the primary or only caregiver. Monitor your parents’ needs and check in regularly with their doctors about the level of care and assistance they need to remain safe.
Prioritizing safety will look different for everyone. If your parents have mobility issues, you’ll want to rearrange their living space to make it more accommodating. Installing grab bars in the bathroom, wheelchair ramps over the front stairs or grip strips in the tub can all help prevent falls and increase mobility.
If your loved one is struggling with cognitive issues, it may be important to limit their time in the kitchen or turn off the stove to prevent a fire hazard. You might consider setting up a regular routine to improve memory and prevent episodes of confusion.
If there are major changes that need to be made to your loved ones’ accommodations, consider reaching out to your local Area Agency on Aging. Certain accommodations and medical equipment are covered by Medicaid or Medicare. They can help you determine which services you qualify for and walk you through the application process.
#3 Set Boundaries Early and Often
This can often be one of the most difficult things for us to do with our parents once we become caregivers. After all, we love and respect our parents, and they deserve the best possible care. But in order to offer the best possible care to your loved ones, you have to care for yourself first.
The first rule of caregiving is that you cannot care for others if you are not caring for yourself. You can’t pour water from an empty cup. So, make sure you’re being honest about your needs and capabilities and setting boundaries around your time, finances, and mental health.
Exact boundaries will be different for everyone, but they may sound something like this:
“I will be home with my family by 6:30 every day.” Or, “I will not quit my job to become a full-time caregiver.” Or, “I will not answer calls between the hours of 9 pm and 8 am.” Or, “I will take every Wednesday off as a day for myself.”
Sit down and write out your non-negotiable boundaries, so you have a physical reminder of your promises to yourself. It is extremely difficult to maintain those boundaries, especially when you feel your loved one needs your help. However, it is vital for your mental and physical health that you allow yourself to perform self-care.
#4 Stay Flexible
Of course, now that we’ve discussed the importance of boundaries, we have to talk about the importance of flexibility. As your parents continue to age, you’ll likely need to tweak your boundaries. For instance, if your father has another stroke, we know you’re not going to say “Well it’s six o’clock and I promised myself I’d be home by 6:30.”
There’s no way to know when your loved one’s needs will change. Just know that they certainly will. After all, aging cannot be cured, it just continues. Tweak and fine-tune your boundaries, so that they can accommodate the realities of your ever-changing situation.
That being said, there are some boundaries that should be unshakable. Like, “I will not quit my full-time job to become a full-time caretaker.” If your parents need a level of care that has you considering becoming a full-time caretaker, pause and take a breath.
The most important part of flexibility is allowing yourself to ask for help and change your own plans. This is not an admission of failure or laziness. Reaching out to others and accepting help is how you remain strong for your loved ones.
Allow your family, friends, and neighbors to help. And, when the time comes, consider seeking out professional help. There are so many care options for seniors: In-home care, assisted living, long-term care facilities, etc. There are also dozens of state, federal, and community programs designed to help them and offer family caregiver support.
Find Your Local Area Agency on Aging
For assistance coordinating care for your elderly parents, contact your local Area Agency on Aging. Our Information and Assistance Specialists will connect you with a personal Care Coordinator who will help you create a customized care plan.
Caring for your parents as they age isn’t easy, but the Arkansas Association of Area Agencies on Aging is here to help.