Caring for an aging parent is a responsibility that often falls on adult children.
Typically, the need to care for a parent happens around the time the adult child is headed into retirement, and any of their children are already out of the house—which makes it an opportune time to step in and help.
Caring for an elderly parent can be a rewarding experience. It lets you spend more time with them and return the favor for all they did to raise and care for you when you were young.
However, being a caretaker can also be stressful. It takes a lot of work, and if you’re not careful, it can take a real toll on your own health.
So if you find yourself in the position of taking care of an aging parent, here are some helpful tips to make the job easier:
1. Assess how much care is needed
First, it’s important that you assess how much care your parent needs in the first place. You don’t want to overstep your bounds by trying to provide more care than is necessary, but you also don’t want to neglect any of your parent’s needs.
A good way to perform an initial assessment is to list what daily and weekly tasks your parent needs help with. Is it just grocery shopping and getting to places? Or is it also more involved work like cooking and helping them dress?
Start by taking notes of things you’re already doing to help your parent. After about a week, you should have a fairly detailed overview of the scope of work. Have your elderly parent help you fill in anything you may have missed.
2. Be realistic about how much help you can provide
Next, be honest about how much care you can realistically provide. What’s your capacity like? Do you have other familial responsibilities that might conflict with your caregiving duties?
Setting realistic expectations is better for you and your parent. If you take on too much, you may burn out and actually hurt your ability to provide care, which leads us to our next point.
3. Get help if needed
It’s quite possible that you won’t be able to take care of your parent on your own. In that case, it’s absolutely fine to get help. In fact, the earlier you do, the better. That way, you don’t risk neglecting your parent’s needs because you can’t meet them or being unprepared for an emergency.
If possible, enlist the help of siblings, a spouse, and other family members. You shouldn’t have to do it all on your own. Share the responsibility. Plus, the job will only get harder as your parent gets older. So you might as well make it a team effort now. And even if you can handle most of the caretaking, there will always be times when things come up and you need a backup helper.
If you don’t have enough family members to do the job, consider hiring an in-home care professional to help. Or you might enroll your parent in adult day programs to free up some of your schedule.
Get whatever help you and your parent need so that you don’t have to go it alone.
4. Keep a close eye on your parent
Many seniors don’t like needing help. They prefer to remain independent. As a result, they may try to hide their struggles, which can make it extra challenging to determine what they are.
So take the initiative to frequently check in with your parent. Ask them how they are doing and be sensitive to any changes.
Also, make sure it’s easy for them to contact you if anything comes up. For example, give them a cell phone with large buttons, a medical or life alert, or some other device to get ahold of you.
5. Watch your parent’s diet
As your parent gets older, they may no longer be able to shop or cook for themselves. As a result, they are more likely to skip out on meals or eat less healthy foods.
To help your parent maintain a healthy diet, arrange for them to have nutritious, home-cooked meals whenever possible. A balanced diet will help your parent not only stay healthier but fight off diseases that they are more susceptible to as they get older.
6. Help keep your parent active and engaged
Though your parent’s health will inevitably decline, you can slow the process by keeping them active and engaged.
Help them get out to socialize with family and friends and do other activities whenever possible. This helps keep their mind sharp and their body active. It also helps fight off feelings of loneliness and isolation, which significantly increase their risk of premature death.
7. Help your parent get around
Your parent may eventually lose their ability to drive, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t go places.
In order to help your parent get around, offer to drive them or arrange for others to do so. For example, if there’s a family event, another family member may be able to give them a ride. Or if there’s a church service your parent wants to go to, see if other members of the congregation can take them.
In some cases, you may need to pay for professional senior transportation options. The more mobility you can preserve for your parent, the better.
8. Make the home safe for your parent
Whether you are taking care of your parent in their home or yours, it’s important to get rid of any potential hazards that could lead to them getting hurt. A simple slip or fall could lead to a serious injury, from which your parent may never recover.
Some safety hazards you can fix on your own. Others may require more serious renovations, like installing a chair lift so your parent doesn’t have to climb the stairs or handrails in the bathtub to help them lower themselves in.
9. Find ways to save on caregiving costs
Providing care for an aging parent can get expensive fast. But there are many sources of financial support.
For example, FreedomCare lets seniors who qualify for Medicaid (in certain states) choose a family member as their caregiver. That means they could select you, and you would get paid for your caretaking work. Plus, you would be eligible for holiday pay, paid sick time, paid family leave, and a 401(k) retirement account with matching. It’s a great program that benefits both you and your parent.
There are also other government and private elderly care funding programs (e.g Medicaid and Medicare) you may want to look into. Do some research to see what your parent can qualify for.
In addition, it’s important to learn how to budget and be frugal with what you and your parent have. Don’t overspend on the unnecessary. Try to stretch your parent’s caregiving funds as far as they will go.
Lastly, be proactive about your parent’s health. The healthier their lifestyle in terms of diet, exercise, and mental health, the less likely they are to need costly operations or interventions in the long run.
10. Keep other family members in the loop
Unless you are your parent’s only surviving family member, they will have other family members who likely want to stay updated on your parent’s health. So try to keep them in the loop as much as possible.
At times, you may need to call a meeting with all your parent’s immediate family members to make important decisions on behalf of your parent (e.g. putting them in a care home). By reaching out to all the family, you will reduce potential conflict and make others who care about your parent feel more involved.
11. Respect your parent’s wishes
Being unable to take care of yourself can be hard, frustrating, and humiliating. So it’s important to be sensitive when caring for your aging parent. Just because they can’t do certain things on their own anymore doesn’t mean they relinquish all control over their life.
Always ask your parent for their opinion (and permission) whenever you face a decision that concerns them. Don’t make choices for them unless absolutely necessary. Let them be independent whenever possible.
12. Don’t forget to take care of yourself
Finally, don’t forget to take care of yourself. You have needs, too.
If you suffer from too much lack of sleep, food, or energy, you might burn out, and that doesn’t help you or your parent. Why? Because it hurts your ability to function properly and care for your parent properly, and then who will?
So take your own physical and mental well-being seriously. Do the little things: keep a healthy diet, drink lots of water, and get consistent exercise and sleep. You don’t need to maintain a crazy workout routine or anything. You just need balance.
Give yourself scheduled breaks from caregiving and take a vacation if needed while someone covers for you. You deserve it.
The bottom line
At the end of the day, taking care of your elderly parent is a labor of love. Yes, it takes work, but if you delegate responsibilities and follow the tips above, it can be an incredibly fulfilling experience. It may become a period of your life that you will cherish forever.
So remember why you are taking care of your parent in the first place. Then let that guide and motivate you from day to day. You and your parent will be happier as a result.