Did you think once you got your kids off on their own that your caregiving duties were behind you?
I sure did, until my parents and in-laws reached 75 years old. It can be tough being a caregiver for aging parents.
The following tips are what I wish I knew then, and hopefully can help you now:
It took two medical emergencies for me to fully grasp that the tables were now turned. Be prepared for parenting your own parents, and dealing with child-like behaviors. Warning signs to get more involved in your parents’ care include memory problems, poor decision-making skills, and personality changes.
Changes in personality can include excess shopping, hoarding items, excessive eating or sleeping. These can all be signs of depression or a deeper emotional need that is not being fulfilled. Many times, older adults that have retired and lost their purpose don’t even realize they are depressed or lacking purpose.
Speaking with your parents early on and knowing their lifestyle will help you determine if their priorities have changed recently. If you don’t live in the same city or state, make sure to keep in touch via Zoom or regular phone calls. Being on top of their habits is important to keep seniors focused on their health and realizing possible limitations.
Communication also includes knowing your parents’ close friends, neighbours, and other people who can provide support in a crisis. My family keeps a binder with all medications, doctor appointments, and lab results handy. This way, anyone can easily access medical information in an emergency. I wish I had a binder when I had to call the fire department for my father. One of the first questions asked was, “What medications is he taking?” Having an up-to-date binder in a common area of the house is important.
Empathy and Patience
Above all, the most important aspect of caring for your aging parent is having patience and a lot of empathy. You might be dealing with toileting issues, memory loss, or just plain denial of reality with your parents. They are the child, and they will act like it.
Remembering to speak calmly, with simple words, and repeating items is often helpful. Having extra help is also going to make your job and the decisions you make easier on everyone. Support groups are easily found in most cities, so check them out if you need someone to lean on.
Above all, know that you will be in a similar situation at some time down the road. Kindness goes a long way and is always remembered.