You may already be caring for one or more of your parents. Or you might be at the stage where your loved ones have been faring well for years, but now seem like they need extra help.
First and foremost, know that you’re not alone. It’s estimated that up to 30 million American households are giving care to an adult over the age of fifty, with that number expected to double over the next 25 years. And, with both life expectancy and the elderly population increasing, some Americans could be caring for their parents or loved ones well into their sixties.
So how do you know when it’s time to care for your aging parents? Or how do you know when it’s time to provide extra help for your elderly loved one? We’ve put together a checklist to help you as you make these key decisions.
1. Have a Conversation
You’ve maybe been talking with your siblings or friends about how mom is doing, but it’s time to have that conversation with mom herself. For some families, this conversation is relatively easy. For others, it can be a very difficult topic. It’s hard to talk honestly about a future that could include illness, falls, changing mobility or loss of daily independence.
No matter how difficult the conversation may be, however, it’s still important to have it and have it as early as possible. You might discover goals you didn’t know your loved one had (like adding in more travel or working for longer than you expected) or find that they already have a plan in place. Talk about it all frankly so you can all be on the same page.
Here are some do’s and don’ts to help guide this conversation with your aging parent:
DO be patient. This conversation might need to take place over several days or weeks, and you likely won’t accomplish everything you’d like in one sitting.
DO be understanding. Your loved one might have some negative reactions when talking through this difficult topic. But try to stay calm and approach them with understanding. After all, they might be feeling afraid about new changes, or angry about how aging is affecting their bodies or even offended that you think they need help. These are normal reactions and you’ll get much further in your conversations if you let them feel what they need to feel in the moment.
DO be honest. Don’t sugarcoat or try to spin the situation or hide information. It’s okay to be worried and to have serious reasons for being worried. Be as frank as possible and be honest about possible outcomes.
DON’T rush the conversation or the decisions that need to be made. Approach things thoughtfully and take your time.
DON’T assume you know what your parent or loved one has already decided about their future. Be open to hearing some things that might surprise you.
DO have a team (if possible). If you are one of several siblings, or have some trusted friends who understand the situation, bring them into the conversation. Your loved one might be more likely to open up with a family friend than their child. So if you don’t have to do it alone, bring in people who love both of you to help with plans and next steps.
2. Know Your Aging Parent’s Needs
After you’ve had a frank conversation about aging, your loved one’s goals, how they’re doing physically and what care looks like as they age, it’s time to assess their current (and future) needs.
Their needs will likely include everything that goes into their day to day living and ultimately overall happiness. So think through things like home maintenance, finance, transportation, health and personal care and even spiritual and emotional needs.
Questions you may want to ask aging parents are:
- Do they need help caring for their pets?
- What is the current condition of their home? How much do they pay in rent/mortgage? What repairs are needed?
- Is their current living situation conducive to continued healthful living as they age (e.g. stairs or fall hazards, close to amenities, easy to leave and come home)?
- Are they able to complete daily tasks, grooming and personal care habits and meal planning and preparation on their own?
- Do they understand and are they currently managing their own health care, including correctly and consistently taking medications without supervision?
- Do they need regular care that requires more medical expertise than we currently have?
Think through these questions (and others) and answer them honestly. The better picture you have about your loved one’s current needs and future needs, the better you’ll be able to plan your level of care.
3. Make a Plan and Take Action
Once you know and understand your loved one’s needs, you will want to make a plan to address these needs, even if there’s not currently a reason for it. Your plans should include both how you’ll address each need, who will help with each need and who is the point person to discuss what’s needed.
For example, in the short term, your loved one may only need assistance organizing their home so they can get around better. Make a plan for the family to come together on a weekend to accomplish this task and designate one person to communicate the plan to everyone.
Or, with long term planning you will want to know the names and numbers of your loved one’s physicians and specialists. You will also want to designate the person in your family who is directly responsible for helping to coordinate immediate care in the event of illness or injury. Think through things like who will feed and care for your parent’s pets or plants during hospital stay, what hospital you prefer and a general idea of what insurance covers.
Your aging parent may not understand why you want to do all this planning right now when they feel great. But you will all be able to take comfort in your plan of action as time passes. Whether you’re surprised by an unexpected illness or a fall, or already have a home health care agency in place for when your parent needs elderly companion care services, your peace of mind will be worth the initial work.
There are many helpful detailed checklists through sites like the AARP that can help you organize your thoughts as you approach your parents’ caregiving. Just remember, the more prepared you can be now, the better you’ll be able to plan and provide the care needed for your loved one.