WASHINGTON — In the beginning, children look to parents for care and comfort. They rely on them for protection and guidance as they navigate into adulthood.
But as parents age, roles reverse — the cared-for becomes the caregiver. During this transition, important and often difficult conversations must be had as a family.
The first step in caring for aging parents is the conversation — and it’s never too early, says Virginia Morris, author of “How to Care for Aging Parents,” now in its third edition. But it also can be one of the more difficult steps. So, rather than a single conversation, it’s several.
Some ways to approach the subject:
“I think the most important thing when you talk to your parents is to listen to them. Rather than coming to the conversation with answers, sort of ask them what they want, what their goals are,” says Morris.
With the Internet and quicker access to information and technology, parts of that process are easier.
Caregivers can now video-chat with parents and easily find information. Aging-in – place technologies have advanced, says Morris, pointing toward anything from pill dispensers to health monitors to keep vital signs in check. At the same time, people are living longer; baby boomers are aging and elder fraud and accessibility to technology create new challenges.
But while change is constant, some things never change.
“The technology is really growing right now. But at the end of the day, the things your parent needs are kind of the same. And the worries of this job really haven’t changed. ‘Is he lonely? Is he OK?'” says Morris.
“We’re all dealing with similar financial legal issues, so while the technology can help, it hasn’t completely changed the dynamic.”
As caregivers, it’s important for children to prepare themselves as well. Handling emotions of guilt and frustration, along with legalese and paying for healthcare, are common concerns. Planning for the care of an aging parent while balancing children and a career can be tricky business.
“The question I am most frequently asked is, ‘My parent needs to ______ and he won’t. He needs to move out of his house, or stop shoveling his sidewalk, or sign these documents or stop driving.’ We, as the adult children, sort of know what they should do, but they don’t want to do it,” says Morris.
“It’s a really fine line between protecting your parent and helping your parent, and actually backing off and respecting them and knowing that they have their own wishes.”
To make the process easier, Morris says, it’s vital for caregivers to be honest with themselves and ask for help. Accepting limits and setting boundaries around those limits keeps the process realistic. Waiting until the last minute to ask questions and seek answers will only make it more stressful.
And finally, an important and often forgotten step is taking care of yourself.
Ten survival tips from “How to Care for Aging Parents“