Caring for aging parents can be challenging. Although getting older is a natural part of life, many Americans don’t discuss it or think positively about it. 

Aging does lead to mental and physical decline, but it also reflects the gift of a long and full life. If you have parents to care for, you can be thankful they’ve been a part of your life for so long. 

With the right preparation, you can be ready to give your parents the best quality of care and support them during the aging process. To help you get started, here are four things you need to know about caring for them. 

  1. Talk to Your Parents 

If you can, talk to your parents about a care plan before they need care. Conversations about aging and death can be challenging, but they will give everyone peace when you later need to make decisions.  

Many Americans want to spend the rest of their lives at home – find out if that’s how your parents feel. Other topics you should discuss include health and medicine, types of caregiving, finances, insurance and legal documents. 

You can use a care checklist to ensure you don’t miss anything important. Also, make sure you document everything you learn from this discussion and keep the information in a safe place. It’s also an excellent idea to make copies of any essential legal or medical documents. 

If this conversation sounds extremely stressful to you, you’re not alone. However, the goal isn’t to interrogate your parents and then take away their autonomy. In fact, the very opposite is true – clear communication empowers you to respect their wishes and make better decisions down the road.

  1. Make a Business Plan

In addition to talking to your parents, you should also have a conversation with siblings or other relatives who are also invested in their care as they age. Many families experience differences of opinion about care and responsibilities for aging parents. During a health or financial crisis, disagreements can aggravate an already stressful time. 

Emotions and personal expectations are sure to color any discussion. The best way to frame these conversations is by treating them like a business meeting. Discuss everyone’s expectations, needs, resources and division of responsibilities. 

If no family lives close to your aging relatives, you’ll need to think more creatively about their care plan. In the United States, around 15% of caregivers live 450 miles away from their parents. It’s difficult to care for them from that distance, but not impossible. 

There are many steps you can take, apart from moving, to ensure your aging parents receive the best care. Some of these include moving them to live near you or paying full-time local caregivers. 

  1. Take Care of Finances

Family members caring for aging relatives often experience extreme financial strain. On average, it costs about $54,912 a year in the United States to pay a full-time home health aide. Private care in a nursing home can cost closer to $105,850 a year. Nonprofit continuing care retirement communities can vary in cost depending on individual needs. 

Some individuals can receive government financial assistance, but funds from programs like Medicaid are limited and have long waiting lists. The middle class especially tends to fall through the cracks – they have too much income to qualify for aid but too little to afford quality care. 

In some cases, family members can receive payment to care for their aging relatives. This kind of financial aid is especially helpful if you must quit your job to become a full-time caregiver. However, many of these services are difficult to obtain and cover very little of total costs. Your best option is to save, invest and plan to cover the costs of aging relatives yourself.

The best way to avoid financial stress and ensure quality parental care is to plan as early as possible. Discussions about finances are always challenging, but it’s better to have them now rather than later. 

  1. Invest in Your Health

Many individuals report physical and emotional exhaustion from caring for their aging parents full time. Lack of sleep, isolation and financial strain can wear down your health and make it difficult to get through each day. Your life matters, too. 

Protect your physical health by eating nutritious foods, spending time outside and getting enough sleep. If at all possible, do not do everything yourself. Hire a licensed caregiver to spend the night, take over weekends or run errands for you while you stay home. You can also ask friends and relatives to volunteer time to give you a break.

While caring for relatives is an important responsibility, it is an enormous amount of work and pressure. It’s very difficult to watch your parents’ health decline and know that they rely on you for every basic need. The pressure to respect their wishes in the face of financial and personal challenges can become overwhelming. 

Don’t hesitate to reach out for help, and know that you’re not alone – over 53 million people across the United States are dealing with the day-to-day pressures of caregiving. 

Appreciate Each Moment

Caring for aging parents can be challenging. However, it’s also an opportunity to connect with them in a new, positive way. You may be surprised by the moments of connection and joy you experience during this phase of life together. 

Follow these steps to mitigate caregiver stress by holding honest conversations, strategizing with a business plan and prioritizing your own health. With a little preparation, you can be there to support and care for your parents as they age.