For many, caring for an aging parent is not an issue, but for others it's an all too familiar scenario. With life expectancy on the rise, caring for an aging parent(s) will, in all reality, be a likelihood for a number of us. And I am no exception. For the past 3 years, my husband and I have been caring for his aging parents--age 83 and 88. Their care has become a major part of our lives, especially this past year as both have experienced a major decline in their health.
Three years ago after shuttling our daughter off to college, my husband and I were looking forward to having some empty-nest time--time to spend together. However, those plans have been put on hold for the time being. With his parents advancing age and declining health, coupled with the stress and financial obligations of maintaining a home, they made the decision to sell their home and move closer to us.
So less than 3 months after sending our daughter off, my in-laws sold their home of 55 years. It was a tough transition to leave a place they called home for so many years and to leave life-long friends to move to what might as well have been a foreign country. Fortunately, we were able to find a nice independent living retirement community not too far from our home that fit well within their budget. Being able to bring many of their belongings from their home helped ease some of the anxiety that was to be expected.
The challenges of caring for aging parents can become quite stressful, particularly when one is trying to juggle family life, work, and household duties on top of everything else that life throws our way. So how does one cope with the demands caring for aging parents?
Below is a list of ideas my husband and I have come up with to help make caring for an aging parent just a little easier.
- Keep Communication Open-Communication is an essential part of this process. Emotions can run quite high on both sides as the adult children assume more of the 'parental role' and parents acquiesce to their adult children, but not always without some resistance.
- Keep a schedule-Each month I write their doctor appointments and other important appointments on a calendar that hangs in their kitchen for them to see and to help keep life a little less chaotic for all of us.
- If you can, go with your parents to their doctors, or at least have someone else accompany them.-While I have spent more time in doctor's offices this past year than I have in my whole life, being at their appointments has helped me develop an open relationship with their doctors so that I have a better understanding as to their treatment plans. I discovered early on when they would go to their doctors on their own, more times than not, they did not quite understand the reasons for certain treatments which required me to call the office to get the full picture regarding their treatment.
- Offer a shoulder to lean on- For the past six months or so, not a month has gone by when the loss of a friend isn't a part of their conversation. The loss of a friend, both old and new, can leave many elderly people quite depressed. Allow your parents to share their loss and grief with you.
- It's OK to take time away-To say the transition has been smooth sailing would be far from the truth. Conflicts have been a part of the journey and knowing when to pull back is key. Learning to put up boundaries is a huge benefit. Being up front and telling my in-laws that we cannot be there every weekend has been a huge stress reliever for me and my husband.
- Allow others to help-As I mentioned earlier, my in-laws live in a community with other retirees, many of whom still drive.Thankfully, their neighbors and friends have been more than willing to take my in-laws on quick errands or to pick up something at the market that they may need before our next trip to the grocery store.
As with everything else in life, many obstacles can be met if we go in with a plan, have open communication and most importantly understanding. This is not to say conflict and emotions will not be a part of the journey, but for me being able to discuss my concerns with others has helped me cope with a situation many of us will certainly face at least once in our life.
Do you care for aging parents? If so, what are some ideas you have come up with to make the transition easier?