Taking Care of Aging ParentsChallenges Families Face Today
In today’s fast-paced world, caring for an elderly parent or relative raises many challenges. With an aging population, higher life expectancy, and the rising costs of assisted living residences and homecare, more and more families are having to partially or fully look after their loved ones themselves.
Statistics show 70% of Canadian adults have at least one living parent and a third of these people actively contribute to their care. But it comes at a price. According to economists at CIBC, caregiving costs Canadians an estimated $33 billion a year.
Indeed, the realities of caring for your elderly parents can raise tough questions. Should they move in with me? Should I move in with them? How will this impact my relationships? Do I need to quit my job to look after them? How will I pay for their care?
It can be a trying time, made harder if you also have to juggle multiple responsibilities like work, children, and running a household. Also, let’s not forget the emotional stress associated with dealing with complex health needs such as Dementia or Alzheimer’s.
On the flip side, caregiving can be an incredibly rewarding experience with lots of love and compassion.
As the youngest of three, Lisa’s parents had her in their 30’s. Hardly unusual these days, but it was back then. Now aged fifty-one, she had her daughter later in life when she was forty-two years old.
“Many years ago, having your parents live past sixty-five or seventy was lucky. My grandparents passed away by the time they were seventy-something,” says Lisa. In contrast, she looks after her eighty-five-year-old dad, who suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and emphysema and lives on his own.
For Lisa, this means balancing the needs of her dad with those of her nine-year-old daughter Kirsten and husband, Doug. “I visit every other day, avoiding the traffic if I can. While I’m there, I clean, prepare food, make sure he’s showered. I also pick up his prescriptions and take him to hospital appointments. And then I rush back to do the school run and get to work.”
For now, her father keeps a measure of independence—he goes to the local shop, cooks, and can wash. However, Lisa’s noticing signs of forgetfulness, which worries her. Although after his stroke, he refused a panic button, saying, “If I die, I die.” Lisa is conscious if the situation worsens, she’ll have no choice but to override her father’s wishes and organize assisted care. To do this, will mean involving the wider family, which doesn’t always see eye-to-eye on such matters.
She is very much her dad’s primary caregiver. “I know what he likes, and I know his needs. Lisa also has power of attorney and is the executor of her father’s will, as this is something “I’ve always done.”
With her father firmly against going into a residence or assisted living home, Lisa acknowledges it’ll just be another bridge to cross when the time comes. For now, “I just want to do my best.”
Of course, not everyone’s experience will be like Lisa’s—each family’s situation is different.
Let’s talk about practical tips. If you find yourself caring for an aging parent, here’s some advice to help you on your journey.
Assessing Your Parent’s Needs
In some cases, your parents’ care needs are pretty straightforward, such as assistance with shopping and transport. But, in other instances, if your parents have a health condition that prevents them from being independent such as dementia or a stroke, the level of care will be far higher, possibly life-changing. They might need to live with you or have assisted care or go to a care home.
Here are a few key factors to consider when assessing your parent’s health and life needs.
- Can they perform everyday activities?
- What are the main safety issues? E.g., driving worries, falling at home.
- Can they manage their own financial and legal affairs?
- Are they showing memory loss or other signs of cognitive impairment? If yes, do they need assisted home care or to move to an assisted living home?
- Is their current housing situation suitable? Do they need to live in a more supportive environment?
When Older Parents Resist Help
Realizing your aging parents need care is one thing, getting them to acknowledge it, is something else. Understandably, elderly parents can find it hard to accept help. It can feel disempowering and impact on their sense of self-worth. For adult children, this can be incredibly frustrating and upsetting.
Here a few tips on how to gently discuss care options with your aging parents.
- Sometimes the logical argument just doesn’t work. Instead, consider your parent’s emotions. Take time to understand their feelings and what they are worried about most.
- Identify potential trade-offs your parents might consider in exchange for accepting care.
- Talk through the pros and cons of all care solutions.
- Validate how they feel. Make your parents are part of the discussion, so they feel involved in any decision-making.
If they are showing signs of cognitive impairment, like memory loss, this can be a sign of Dementia or Alzheimer’s and needs assessment. Furthermore, don’t put off important conversations about financial management and estate planning.
Estate Planning is Not a Dirty Word
Talking about the future can feel uncomfortable and awkward. But thinking ahead and preparing a plan is a positive thing.
In truth, it doesn’t have to be a painful conversation. (Hint—starting the process is usually the hardest bit.)
Here are some vital questions to ask your parents.
- Do you have an estate plan?
- When did you last update your will?
- Do you have an attorney?
- Do you have long-term care insurance or a plan for assisted living?
- Is there a funeral plan?
Next, arrange a meeting with your attorney. They will advise on how to make the right arrangements and plans for the future. Before you go, familiarise yourself with key terms.
Here’s a quick overview.
Power of attorney (POA) – this gives you legal authority to make decisions about things like property and finances on behalf of your parent. Such as selling real estate, signing contracts, banking and speaking with insurance agents. Before signing, take time to understand the legal and financial risks associated with having POA for your parents.
Will – this is a legal document outlining how a person wishes for their belongings and property to be distributed following their death.
Executor – this is the person entrusted to take responsibility for making sure a person’s last wishes are granted concerning the disposition of their property and possessions.
How Do I Take Care of My Aging Parents Remotely?
Living far away from your aging parents is hard. You can’t help out with the day-to-day things, coordinate care provision as easily, or respond quickly to sudden changes in their health. What if they fall over at home? Or have a stroke. Understandably, physical distance can cause extra stress and worry.
Fortunately, there are a few strategies to help you stay better connected and involved.
- Identify a trusted friend, or local relative or neighbor and arrange for them to visit your parents and provide you with updates.
- Schedule a grocery service that delivers groceries regularly.
- Encourage your kids to call and text their grandparents.
- Gather relevant documents like insurance policies, and power of attorney documents, and store them in a safe place.
- If you need to find a care home, or organize care provisions at a distance, get in touch with knowledgeable parties like community organizations in the local area.
It Takes a Village
Sometimes family members are reluctant to help out. It’s not just because they’re unwilling or don’t care. They might not know how to help or not appreciate how much energy and time it takes.
Here are a few ideas to get them involved.
- Speak with each family member one-to-one. Stay calm and listen to them. Find out their main concerns and obstacles to helping.
- Caring for someone can feel overwhelming at times. Allocate specific tasks to family members with consideration to their other obligations. Maybe one person can pick up the shopping, and another organizes cleaning.
- Involve them by sharing relevant information like hospital visits, medical tests results.
- Agree who will take financial responsibility, organise POA and be the Will executor.
- Don’t avoid talking about money. Care options can be expensive. Be open and transparent to find workable and fair solutions.
Coping With Caring For The Sandwich Generation
If you look after both an aging adult and kids, consider yourself part of the sandwich generation. You’ll know better than anyone that balancing caring responsibilities across generations can be draining and worrying.
Here are some useful techniques to help you ease the burden.
- Access a support network. If you don’t have family helping you out, ask friends. Also, join online groups to connect with others and get advice.
- Stay organized with schedules and critical tasks. Share these with your family, so everyone is aware of what needs doing and when.
- Hire extra help.
- Be open with your employer about your situation. You might be able to negotiate flexible working hours or have paid-time-off.
Technology to Keep You Safe
With the advent of new technologies, there are now lots of different systems, mobile apps and gadgets to give you peace of mind about your loved ones. And don’t worry, it’s ok if you’re not a tech-geek.
To get you started, here’s a quick rundown of the best tech tools for caregivers.
Digitize important documents
Safety boxes are pretty old-fashioned these days and far from secure. That’s where digital management systems come in. By digitizing essential documents like power of attorney documents, wills, warranties, and health insurance, you and your family can stay organized, informed, and connected. Online information management platforms like Vaultt were built to help families and caregivers simplify this task.
Virtual health tracking (VHM)
This innovative technology allows your elderly parents to have their symptoms and vital signs monitored by health professionals from the safety of their own homes by being connected to a patient app via a smartphone or tablet. Check with your local health care providers for availability in your area.
Smart home technology has come a long way. Environmental sensors are great if you don’t live with your elderly parents. By installing sensors around the home, you can detect a fire, gas, or water leaks quickly.
Forget ‘mothers’ pillbox.’ Instead, there are plenty of safer alternatives. By using digital reminders, managing your parent’s medication regime becomes far more manageable from a distance. Especially useful for parents suffering from memory loss. So, no more double dosing accidentally.
Take Care of Yourself (Yes You)
We all know the rule—when the oxygen mask comes down, you are supposed to put yours on first before you help anyone else. Well, the same principle applies to caregivers. It’s easy to forget your needs, or worse, feel guilty for investing time and care for yourself. But don’t.
Here are a few simple self-care practices you can easily fit into a busy day.
- Eat a healthy diet and exercise.
- Learn relaxation techniques like meditation, yoga, or tai chi.
- Take time out for yourself and read a book, have a bath, or listen to music.
- Talk to someone. Reach out to friends and family, find a support group online.
Take Care of Yourself (Yes You)
Looking after an elderly parent, relative or friend, takes energy, time, and commitment. There’s no denying it can be emotionally and spiritually draining. At the same time, it’s one of the most rewarding, beautiful, and kind things you can do.
And remember, you’re not alone.
It takes a village. Never hesitate to ask for help. Use your support network. And if you don’t have immediate family to lean on, ask neighbours and friends. You’ll be surprised how many people will be willing to help you.
Lastly, be kind and give yourself grace. And remember, take each day at a time and trust you’re doing the best you can.