Most of us will be a caregiver at some point in our lives, usually for an aging parent. Some will juggle caregiving with careers and kids. Some will do their best to care for their parents from hundreds or thousands of miles away. Every situation is different, but when elderly parents can no longer look after themselves, they might need help.
Providing the care they need while maintaining as much independence as possible is important. With all of the changes that come with aging, they may feel that independence is one of a few factors they still have control over. Having a sense of independence gives seniors a sense of purpose, achievement, and self-worth. According to a survey conducted by the UK’s Disabled Living Foundation, “More people are more afraid of losing their independence as they grow older than of dying.”
So in addition to balancing their wants, needs, and best interests you also need to be mindful of their independence. Be careful not to cross the boundary between caregiving and being overbearing. Here are ways to help your parents age safely and happily for as long as possible without making them feel like they are losing their independence.
It’s pretty universal that parents want to hear from their kids. Today’s technologies—from email to social media—make it easy to stay in contact. Make a point to call mom and/or dad on a regular basis. Set an alarm on your phone if you need help remembering.
Beyond picking up the phone, communication is key when it comes to making important decisions. Raise any concerns you have and ask their opinion, don’t offer yours. Listen and provide encouragement and support, and only offer advice when it’s requested. Involving your aging parents in decision-making helps them feel like you value their opinion.
Tips for successfully communicating with seniors include speaking distinctly but not condescendingly, accepting differences of opinion, and choosing a good time to raise issues. For instance, don’t bring up their declining driving skills while you’re in the passenger’s seat.
Put Yourself in Their Shoes
Aging is a lesson in the art of losing. Slowly but surely, seniors say goodbye to their career, health, energy, mobility, friends, and independence. This is enough to make anyone grumpy, frustrated, moody, or needy. When your parent is acting curmudgeonly, try to empathize.
Aging and health issues often go hand-in-hand. Understand what health problems your parent has and what treatment entails. Go to doctor’s appointments with them when you can and ask questions and take notes. Know what medications they’ve been prescribed, as well as dosage, and when they should be taken.
Assess Caregiving Needs
Let them be in charge of what they can for as long as possible. Assess what assistance is needed on a daily or weekly basis. It could be getting groceries, mowing the yard, housekeeping, or transportation. Once you know what support they require, you can look into service provider solutions.
Gather Your Village
Obviously, you’ll want to ask your parents how you can help them, but don’t take on all the responsibility yourself. Rely on family, friends, neighbors, and community resources for assistance. Online scheduling tools like the Lotsa Helping Hands care calendar can help coordinate and keep track of appointments and task assignments
Community-aided self-reliance has come a long way since Meals on Wheels and adult day-care centers. The so-called village movement, “links neighbors together to help one another remain in the homes they love as they grow older,” according to AARP. The village concept is a membership organization for older residents that acts as a liaison for resources they need to live at home safely and comfortably. Services can include transportation, yard work, housekeeping, and bookkeeping.
If your parent requires a level of care that can’t be provided at home, consider accommodations like assisted living facilities or moving them in with you. Assuming they’re aging in place (and who could blame them for wanting to stay put?), their home may need to be modified.
Seek out potential problems and make necessary repairs or changes. Home modifications can include better lighting; widening doorways for wheelchairs or walkers; installing a no-threshold walk-in or roll-in shower in place of a tub, handrails and grab bars, and maybe even a stairlift.
Aging In Place Technologies
Technology can help give you peace of mind without making your parents feel as if you’re hovering over their every move. AARP lists all kinds of “smart” gadgets that remotely monitor your parent’s well-being, including sensors that can detect a fall (and call for help!), voice activation, GPS, and apps.
Tricella Pillbox can help ensure your parents take their meds on time. The smart pillbox has sensors for each pill drawer that connects to the smartphone application via Bluetooth to notify family members or loved ones via an alert, text, or call if your parent forgets to take their pills.
Encourage Social and Physical Activity
Loss of mobility, energy, hearing, or vision can lead to isolation, which can be harmful to a senior’s health and longevity. In order to maintain an independent lifestyle, your parent needs to get out of the house and socialize with people with similar interests. Check for events within the community or at their local senior center. Whether it’s morning coffee, a monthly sewing group, or weekly bridge, encourage your parents to be social.
According to family therapist Christina Steinorth, “Physical activity is key for improving mood, endurance, balance, and strength and delaying cognitive decline.” Encourage your parents to get a little exercise, like walking, swimming, or yoga, every day. If they’re in denial about their slothfulness, a fitness tracker like a Fitbit could show them how sedentary they actually are.