Aging is a natural and unavoidable part of life. As people age and lose some of their independence, the task of caring for their needs often falls to their children or other close family members. Over time, as their physical condition worsens and independence decreases, the burden of care tends to increase for caregivers. It can be difficult to objectively assess when it’s time to ask for help or think about long-term care.
We understand that you want to care for your loved one yourself for as long as possible. Just remember that sometimes, they need care that is beyond what you can offer—and that if you’re not caring for yourself properly, you’re going to experience burnout that negatively impacts everyone.
That’s why we’ve pulled together this guide. In this ebook, you’ll find tips for caring for elderly parents at home, resources on organizations that help seniors, and information on how to prevent caregiver burnout. The more information and resources you have available to you, the higher the quality of life for both you and your elderly loved one.
Does My Elderly Loved One Need Caregiving Assistance?
The first step is assessing what level of care—if any—your aging loved one may need. Sometimes the need for support and extra care is obvious. Maybe your loved one is easily confused, can no longer complete daily activities of living, or has obvious motor function issues. But for most people, the decline of health, mobility, and mental acuity are gradual.
While it’s always best to seek out a professional assessment if you have concerns about your loved one’s well being, there are red flags you can watch for to help you determine when it’s time to bring in further support. And remember, there are care services and resources for seniors at every stage of the aging process. Accepting support and care early on can help increase independence, improve quality of life, and result in more positive health outcomes.
Signs Your Loved One May Need Extra Care
As we age, it becomes more difficult to get around. This increases our risk of falling and/or injuring ourselves. Because healing takes much longer for seniors, a fall or major injury can be a disaster. Watch how your loved one gets around. Are they wobbly—grabbing for support as they go? Do they move slowly or shuffle their feet? Do they require a helping hand to stand up or sit down? Does it take them more than two or three steps to turn around?
If the answer to any of these questions is “yes,” it might be time to consider modifications to their environment or care. There are many ways you can modify your loved one’s home to improve safety. Handrails for staircases, ramps to get inside, grab bars and seats for the shower, higher toilet seats—all of these modifications can reduce the risk of falls and injury.
Some of these modifications and tools are available through prescription, covered by Medicare, or offered by programs for seniors. Talk to your local Area Agency on Aging about available benefits for seniors in your area.
Trouble Handling Financial Issues
As mental acuity declines or the symptoms of dementia worsen, one of the first red flags to watch for is trouble handling financial matters. Confusion over bank statements, notices of unpaid bills, unusual transactions, and stacks of unopened mail are warning signs.
But financial troubles are a touchy subject, even at the best of times. Especially when you’re dealing with your parents, who cared for you and have been independent for decades, asking to help with money matters can feel like a huge overstep. Make sure they understand that you’re here to help and act as a second pair of eyes, not take over completely.
The right solution will depend completely on your loved one’s financial situation and the severity of their symptoms. But a good place to start is helping them with the more complicated financial matters while they deal with the day-to-day. As long as you have your loved one’s permission, many banks are happy to assist you by sending copies of bank statements to you as well.
It’s also a good idea to ensure that all legal affairs are taken care of as early as possible, especially with a diagnosis of a form of dementia like Alzheimer’s. Hiring a lawyer and a financial planner will set your loved one’s mind at ease and help protect them.
Signs of Depression
If you notice changes in your loved one’s mood, talk to them about it. It’s normal for people to have bad days—or even weeks. And if they’re suffering from an illness or increased pain, irritability and sadness can be very normal responses to the aging process. But these can also be signs of depression. Watch for:
- Loss of interest in activities they previously enjoyed
- A decrease in energy
- Changes in eating habits and/or weight
Remember that decreased mobility and chronic pain increase the risk of depression exponentially because they increase feelings of isolation—people who experience loneliness and feelings of disconnection experience faster rates of cognitive decline, according to AARP.
Talk to your loved ones and encourage them to share their feelings. Ask friends to look in on them and arrange outings that bring them in contact with others socially if possible.
When you are caring for senior parents at home, it’s easy to forget about the help available from your community. Many of our Area Agencies on Aging offer transportation services to and from our senior centers. If your loved one cannot be moved, talk to one of our care coordinators about your options for respite care.
A Noticeable Decline in Hygiene or Physical Appearance
If you notice that your loved one’s hair hasn’t been brushed, their clothes are dirty or put on incorrectly, or that they smell like they haven’t bathed, it can be a sign that they are no longer capable of completing self-care tasks.
These kinds of symptoms can be an indicator of several issues or conditions, including:
- Confusion or cognitive decline
- Lack of mobility
Talk to your loved ones and watch them go about their daily routine to figure out where the lapse is coming from. If they’re struggling with dexterity and mobility, choosing easy-to-put-on clothing can help tremendously—velcro shoes, elastic waistbands, button-free shirts, etc. You can also install handles and seats in the shower and choose toiletries that are lightweight and easier to handle.
If there seems to be confusion or apathy at the root of their decline, schedule an appointment with a healthcare professional to have them evaluated for depression or dementia.
How to Have the Conversation About Caregiving With Your Parents
This is one of the hardest conversations to have with your parents. It feels morbid, self-serving, or confrontational. The last thing you want is for your parent to get defensive and refuse help right off the bat. That’s why it’s important to have the conversation as soon as possible—preferably before there are any problems.
Even if you have noticed signs that they may need more help, approaching the conversation as a series of “what-ifs” is a lot less threatening. If everyone is feeling tense, try having a series of short conversations. Offer to hire someone to help with a chore they already hate (and obviously struggle with), like cleaning or yard work.
It’s also important to remember that while you might be taking on the role of caregiver, these are grown adults, not children. You cannot (and should not) force them to do anything they don’t want to do. While it can be tempting to issue commands when it’s so obviously for their benefit, it’s important to include them in the decision-making process to avoid hard feelings and resentment.
Ask questions like “What do you want from the future?” and “What worries you about getting older?” Asking open-ended questions invites them to think about their situation and talk about their feelings.
As they discuss their fears with you, try to gently reframe their mindset. They’re not losing their independence; they’re choosing to accept the help they need to remain independent for as long as possible. An elder with in-home care can stay out of a nursing home much longer than one without.
How Can I Help My Aging Parents?
Once you’ve determined that your parent does need help, you can start looking into the available resources and senior care organizations in your area. Obviously, the type of help they need will be determined by the type and severity of their symptoms and diagnosis.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed at the prospect of becoming a caregiver, don’t worry. There are so many services available for low-income seniors and those suffering from disabilities.
What Services Do Local Agencies Provide for Senior Citizens?
Different states, cities, and counties offer different programs to help their senior community members. You should contact your local Area Agency on Aging for help coordinating care and for information on what programs you may qualify for. But generally speaking, these are the services that may be offered locally:
Information and Assistance
For information about the programs and benefits available to seniors in your area, contact your local Area Agency on Aging. They will connect you to an Information Assistance Specialist. The specialist will ask you some initial questions and make an appointment with a personal Care Coordinator.
They can also answer questions about specific care resources in your area, such as the hours of the senior center, who to contact about program assistance, or how to sign up for Meals on Wheels.
This is a completely free service, as is Care Coordination.
Care Coordination is offered free of charge for all Arkansas senior citizens. The goal of care coordination is to help your elderly loved one remain independent and in their own home for as long as possible. Your Care Coordinator will act as a single point of contact for all matters related to your loved one’s mental, physical, and emotional health.
They will schedule a time to come to your loved one’s home and assess the state of their overall wellbeing. Based on their assessment, they will recommend the services that would most benefit your loved one, including any government program they may qualify for. When needed, your Care Coordinator is qualified and happy to help you with the benefits and programs application process.
You and your loved one will work with the Care Coordinator to develop a personalized care plan. This may include federal, state, city, county, or local resources, whether they are offered through the Area Agency on Aging or an outside organization.
After your personalized care plan is created, Care Coordination includes case management and follow-up. So check in with your coordinator whenever you have questions or concerns!
Home Care Services
Whether your loved one is completely homebound or just needs assistance to remain independent, in-home care services can improve their quality of life. Contact your local Area Agency on Aging to schedule a home care evaluation.
All of our home care plans are supervised by a licensed RN or qualified supervisor. They will work closely with you and your loved one to create a custom care plan that addresses their physical, mental, and emotional needs. All services are carried out by trained home care attendants who have received thorough background checks and screenings.
Home care services cover assistance with many activities of daily living, including:
- Personal hygiene
- Meal preparation
- Pet assistance or care
- Medication assistance
Many home care services are covered by Medicaid, the VA, or private insurance. If you do not qualify for any of these programs, you can also choose private pay options. We’re happy to help you create a care plan that works for your loved one’s needs and budget.
Family Caregiver Support
The first rule of caregiving is that you must first care for yourself to take care of others. We know handing over the care of your loved one, even in part, can feel like a betrayal. But no one is capable of providing 24-hour care alone, and letting yourself burn out will negatively impact the quality of care you’re capable of giving.
Protect your loved one and yourself by utilizing the caregiver support programs offered in your area. Free caregiver support groups are available in almost every Arkansas community—including care for your loved one while you attend the meeting.
There are also a number of grants available through community organizations to help pay for respite care so you can rest and recharge, which is essential for caregivers.
In-Home Respite Care
Being a caregiver can quickly become an around-the-clock job. But no one can offer 24-hour care without help. That’s why we offer respite care. Whether you need a few hours to make dinner or take a nap, or a few days to go on vacation with your family, respite care can help you keep a healthy life balance and ensure your loved one’s safety and well-being.
Medicare often covers a certain number of in-home care that you can use as respite care. Contact your local Area Agency on Aging about eligibility or for help filling out the application. If you do not qualify for respite care from Medicare, contact your local Area Agency on Aging to identify opportunities for respite care grants.
Even if your loved one is in an assisted living facility or nursing home, you can qualify for respite care.
Your local senior center is a wonderful way to ensure that your loved one stays active and socially engaged. Our Senior Activity Center Programs keep a full schedule of wellness activities, social engagements, hobby groups, grief support groups, and health education classes.
If your loved one is mobile, they can even volunteer with local charities through the senior center! Reading to children is a favorite among our center members.
Most of our senior centers have free transportation to and from the center straight from your home. Some centers are able to offer further transportation services to necessary appointments and activities like grocery shopping and doctor’s appointments.
Senior centers also serve the important function of meeting nutritional needs. Hot lunches are provided on campus, and many of our centers also provide Meals on Wheels services.
Contact your local Area Agency on Aging to learn more about your local senior center and the programs it provides.
The Area Agencies on Aging offer transportation services for seniors who cannot drive themselves. Depending on availability and your location, you may be able to receive assistance with transportation to and from:
Please note that all transportation services are for non-emergency purposes. If you are in need of immediate medical assistance, please contact an ambulance. We do not have the necessary medical equipment or personnel to deal with medical emergencies.
Veterans are often qualified to receive extra benefits and care through the VA. We can help determine if you are eligible for their programs and assist you through the application process.
The two most common programs are the Aid and Attendance pension benefit and the Housebound pension benefit. If you qualify for either program, we will help you set up care services through your local Area Agency on Aging or through any other organization.
Meals on Wheels
Meals on Wheels is a service that delivers hot, nutritious meals to homebound seniors across the nation. This service is completely free of charge to the recipient, and there are no income requirements to receive the service. However, we do ask that you consider making a donation if you can afford it, as it is a community-funded service.
To qualify for Meals on Wheels, your loved one must be 60 years old or older and homebound or unable to prepare their own meals. All of the meals we deliver are approved by a registered dietician to ensure that you are receiving the required nutrients to remain healthy.
Contact your local Area Agency on Aging or your local senior center to register for Meals on Wheels for more information.
Personal care services are designed to keep your loved ones independent and improve their quality of life. Personal care can include a wide range of activities, including:
If your loved one needs further help, in-home care providers can also assist with meal prep, housework, transportation, etc. Every person’s case is unique, so you’ll need to start the personal care application process with an in-depth assessment. Then your care coordinator will help you create a personalized care plan.
Personal care is often covered by long-term disability and home care policies through Medicaid, Medicare, or private insurance plans. There are also multiple federal and local grants available to help qualified individuals obtain the care they need. For more information about what assistance you may qualify for, contact your local Area Agency on Aging.
What Government Programs are Available for Seniors?
There are several federal and local programs designed to help seniors remain healthy and independent. We’ve provided brief descriptions along with links to resources and the actual programs below. For help understanding, if you qualify or applying to these programs, contact your local Area Agency on Aging.
Federal Programs for Seniors
Reverse Mortgage Program – This is a program offered through the U.S. Department of
Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to seniors 62 years and older who own their own homes. Qualified individuals will receive monthly income payments from the equity you’ve built in your home.
Section 8 Housing Vouchers – Designed to assist low-income seniors, these vouchers are paid directly to the landlord by the PHA on your loved one’s behalf. You are only responsible for paying the difference between the voucher and the actual rent.
Medicare – A health insurance program for those age 65 and older. It provides medical and hospital coverage as well as prescription medication coverage. Contact your local Area Agency on Aging for information or guidance with the Medicare enrollment process. Most provide free Part D (Prescription Drug) reviews during the annual open enrollment period Oct. 15 – Dec. 7.
Medicaid – A health insurance program funded by the government for low-income people, families and children, pregnant women, the elderly, and people with disabilities. You must be considered low-income to qualify.
SNAP – The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), a continuation of the food stamp program, helps low-income individuals afford food. If all members of your household receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI), you are automatically qualified for SNAP.
SSI – Supplemental Security Income is a monthly cash benefit provided by the government to all citizens over the age of 65 who meet the qualifying low-income requirements.
Social Security – A monthly benefit paid out to those who paid into Social Security through income taxes. Social Security is designed to replace about 40% of your pre-retirement income and cannot be withdrawn until age 62.
Arkansas State Programs for Seniors
ARChoices – A Department of Human Services program that assists the elderly and disabled find the care services they need, including personal care, facility care, environmental modifications, personal emergency response system access, and attendant care. Qualified individuals must be aged 21 through 64 and have a physical disability determined by the Social Security Administration or the Department of Human Services (DHS) Medical Review Team (MRT) or be age 65 and older require care to get around or do daily activities.
PACE – An all-inclusive Medicare Program and Medicaid state option that provides community-based health and personal care services to people age 55 or older who otherwise would need a nursing home level of care.
Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP) – A part-time program for low-income persons age 55 and older with poor employment prospects. Qualified individuals are placed with government or community agencies and paid Federal or State minimum wage – whichever is higher.
Adult Protective Services – If you suspect elder abuse, you can report it to Adult protective services.
Other services and programs are available through private organizations and charities as well as through your local Area Agency on Aging.
Tips for Caring for Elderly Parents at Home
Many of us make the decision to be a caregiver from an emotional place. Of course, we’ll care for our parents—we love them! It’s the least we can do, right? And that comes from a very pure place of love and respect for your loved one. However, while you’re making that very emotional decision, it’s easy to overlook certain practicalities and realities like how much time and money you actually have to devote to your loved one.
If you’re married or have kids—or even if you don’t—caring for someone else, even part-time, can be exhausting. It’s pretty much impossible to do it alone. We say this not to discourage you from caring for your loved one but to encourage you with the knowledge that you are not alone.
There is a whole support system of family, friends, community members, volunteers, non-profit organizations, and medical providers who are ready and willing to pitch in with the help you need. You just have to ask. We’ve compiled the following checklist to help new caregivers prevent burnout and care for their loved ones to the best of their ability.
The Caring for Aging Parents Checklist
Whether you’ve just become a caregiver or you’ve been helping out for years, it is vital for your physical and mental health to set boundaries around your caregiving relationship. These boundaries will look different for everyone, but they should be designed to ensure that you have the time and space you need to care for yourself and your own family/household.
An example of a boundary is that you will not quit your job to care for your loved one. This is for your financial wellbeing as well as your mental health. If you are retired or don’t have a full-time job, make sure that you set aside times of day when you are absolutely unreachable unless it’s an emergency.
Make a list of non-negotiable boundaries for yourself and read over them often—especially if you’re feeling overwhelmed. Make sure you don’t feel that way because you’re infringing on your boundaries.
This is going to sound counterintuitive right after reading the boundaries section, but caregiving is not a regimented 9-5 job description. There are going to be unexpected incidents that throw a wrench in your plans. Maybe your parent falls ill, or your respite care falls through. Having reasonable boundaries does not mean that you leave your parent alone when they are in real need of you.
You’ll need to fine-tune and tweak your boundaries and the level of help you bring on as you go. Build as much flexibility into your schedule as possible, and inform the people around you about your situation so they can make allowances and offer help. Often flexibility for caregivers is about being willing to accept help from all available sources than it is about making time.
Just remember that even when your parent’s level of care increases, it doesn’t decrease the importance of your own life and self-care.
Do Your Research
Most people think that caregiving is all about emotional support or physical assistance. But it will very quickly become apparent that caregiving requires a crash course in a variety of topics, from the side effects of medications to the legal ramifications of power of attorney.
Financial, legal, and medical subjects can be overwhelming and convoluted. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or ask a professional to repeat themselves. And consider carrying around a notepad or having a dedicated section of your phone for taking notes. You can always do further research later based on the notes you take.
And while it’s vital that you understand as much as possible about your loved one’s condition, remember that in this, too, you are not alone. Turn to trusted lawyers, financial advisors, therapists, medical professionals, or support groups for guidance and support. And share what you’ve learned with your loved one! The sooner you start an open dialogue, the easier it will be to have difficult discussions about end-of-life planning, financial planning, funeral preferences, etc.
Accept Help Early and Often
This ties into our other checklist items, but that’s because it is well worth repeating. It is natural to want to do everything yourself as a new caregiver. After all, who knows better than you what your parents need? It feels like your responsibility; it’s embarrassing to ask for help; you don’t want to be a burden… there are dozens of reasons to try and lone-wolf it.
When these feelings well up, remember the golden rule of caregiving—you cannot care for another person until you care for yourself. By denying proffered help, you are depriving yourself of respite, your friends and family the pleasure of helping, and—most importantly—you are depriving your loved one of the best possible version of yourself.
So let your sister sit with your parents while you take a nap. Let your children run errands for grandma. Let church members bring casseroles. Hire respite care. Take advantage of the programs and assistance that your parents qualify for. Go to caregiver support groups.
Accepting help benefits you by releasing some of your burdens. But it also helps your elderly loved one. Having a community rally around them brings socialization and a sense of community that they can’t get from you alone. And just like you want to help your loved ones in their time of need, people who love you want to offer you help. It’s not a burden—it’s human.
Create a Caregiving Plan
While it isn’t always possible to plan for the truly unexpected, it’s important to have “what if” conversations with your parents. If possible, discuss what they’d like their care plan to look like before they are experiencing any issues. If they already need care, discuss their diagnosis with them and ask about their preferences for end-stage care and funeral planning.
It can feel morbid to bring up these conversations, but it’s important to have them to avoid major financial issues or emotional distress later on. If they’re uncomfortable talking about these subjects, explain to them what a relief it will be for you to understand their wishes. The pressure of making end-of-life decisions or major medical decisions on their behalf comes with so much guilt and anguish. Let them know that you just want to make sure their wishes are respected.
Another important part of planning is to gather all of your parents’ important documents in one place and ensure you have access to the information you need as a caregiver. This includes medical records, birth certificates, social security information, copies of legal documents like power of attorney and wills, and information about their after-death wishes to ensure there’s no confusion with the rest of the family.
Foster Open Communication
While it is sometimes impossible in cases of stroke or cognitive decline, always try to keep your loved one as in the loop as possible about their care. Explain what you’re doing and why. If they’re confused, try to explain it in multiple ways. This is where having a plan beforehand comes in handy because you can point them to their own wishes if they want to know why certain decisions are being made.
It’s also important to remind yourself that while you are their caregiver, you are not their parent. These are people who have been independent for decades. It’s incredibly difficult to let go of that independence and accept help from the people you raised and cared for as children. Even if they are a little confused, people tend to know their own preferences.
So (unless it’s about an important matter you discussed and laid down in writing previously), ask them about what they want! This goes a long way towards making them feel valued and heard and also takes some of the pressure off of you as the decider.
Senior Assistance in Arkansas
If you’re looking for more tips for caring for elderly parents at home or help accessing the care they need, contact your local Area Agency on Aging. We’re here to help you find the care and services your loved one needs to live a happy, healthy, and independent life.