A New Wrinkle: Caring for Elderly Parents
If you are caring for elderly parents, you are not alone. More than 43 million people in the U.S. care for someone 50 or older, and nearly 15 million care for someone who has Alzheimer’s or dementia.Caring for an aging parent can be a richly rewarding yet stressful, emotional experience. The key to minimizing the stress and anxiety (for yourself, your parents and your siblings) is open, respectful communication — early and often.
AARP recommends that adult children talk to their parents about “developing contingency plans for adapting to aging-induced changes” long before parents begin to experience mental or physical impairments. Contingency plans spell out parents’ preferences, such as end-of-life wishes and where they might like to live if they can no longer safely care for themselves. These plans should also cover legal matters, including a power of attorney for financial and healthcare decisions
It’s not always easy to discuss these topics with your parents. They may struggle with giving up control and dealing with the losses that come with aging. Your siblings may have different ideas and expectations than you do about what is best for your parents and who should do what. Family meetings will help you clarify goals and expectations and work out conflicts. A trained facilitator can help if your family is struggling.
Don’t feel you have to reinvent the wheel. You can find a wealth of information, tools and resources online to help you navigate the challenges of caring for your parents. These resources can be a significant lifeline; use them freely and often. Here are a few to get you started.
National Alliance for Caregiving—www.caregiving.org
Next Step in Care—www.nextstepincare.org
Caregiver Action Network—www.caregiveraction.org
Your local Agency on Aging—http://www.n4a.org/
Caring for the caregiver
Don’t forget to take care of yourself. Being a caregiver can be exhausting. Make your own health a priority. Get enough sleep, eat a healthy diet and get regular exercise. Make time for friends and pleasurable activities. Take breaks and don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Do One Thing
Start the conversation. If you have not yet discussed your parents’ plans, preferences and wishes, broach the topic now in a collaborative spirit. It will take more than one conversation, but you have to start somewhere. Need help? Download “Guide to Having Touchy Conversations Over the Holidays” from A Place for Mom or Prepare to Care: A Planning Guide for Families by AARP.