By Dianne Smith
When we first realize our elderly parent needs help, we are confronted with our own aging and mortality. We look in the mirror and see our wrinkles, gray hair and age spots and we reflect on life. We see our mother or father age and maybe struggle day in and day out, and we think about our future. Making decisions about our elderly parents role models for our children how we would like them to care for us and gives us a chance to discuss our wishes.
It is important to remember there is no black or white in how to navigate the aging process and everyone does it in their own way. As children, helping our parents make wise decisions and being a support system for them is important, even if they do not live locally. How we do that may be slightly different for everyone and that is okay.
Having support if you are a full time caregiver for an aging parent is important. Reach out to friends who may be in the same situation, or at least have aging parents of their own. Many churches, senior centers and hospitals have caregiver support groups. Some even offer care for your parent so that you can attend. Finding some type of respite care is nice so you don’t burn out and become resentful and angry. Taking care of yourself by spending time with friends and being involved in your interests is also important and will help you be more patient in those stressful times.
In making decisions around the increased needs of elderly parents there are signs that give us an indication of the need for increased involvement. Not taking care of themselves or the home the way they use to, missed appointments or unpaid bills, poor personal hygiene, unexplained dents or scratches in the car, forgetfulness, confusion or unexplained injuries or bruise are all indicators that something might be amiss.
If health or happiness seems to be compromised, it’s important to have a conversation and address the problems. That might be finding in-home care, a retirement community, day care such as Day Break in Sandpoint or a senior living community. It’s important to find the right care options for each unique family situation and one that you feel comfortable with. If you are looking at out of home care visit and ask questions. Talk to both the caregivers as well as those being cared for, because if you feel comfortable you will rest easier.
As we all get older we want to hold on to our independence and can be at odds with even the most well-intentioned “suggestions” from our children. Some well-intended suggestions can often come across as a criticism or suggest that they are no longer capable. Probably the biggest struggle in this area will be when you as a child fear for their safety either living independently or driving. Not being able to do either of those often means we are nearing the end and giving up whatever independence we had. This can be hard for both the child and the parent. Discussions and a plan before this point are helpful because the parent can be involved in the decision making process when feelings are not so raw.
Watching your parent age is hard and can be stressful and being prepared and having discussions as to their wishes ahead of time can help. If you have siblings, make sure you all are in agreement so there is no conflict down the line. If one decides to be the primary caregiver discussing how others can help will make the journey a bit smoother. Caring for an elderly parent can be rewarding, but it can also be completely overwhelming. Fortunately with the internet there is so much great information on how we can best be helpful in all their areas of need. It gives us our last chance to honor our parents and care for them the way they cared for us as children.
Dianne Smith, LMFT is a licensed counselor who works with both children and adults. She has offices in Bonners Ferry and Sandpoint and can be reached at 951-440-0982.