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Caring for Aging Parents

Caring for Aging Parents

 

                “Mother is becoming more forgetful and confused. She doesn’t remember to take her medications, doesn’t prepare nutritious meals, and forgets to turn off the stove. What can I do?”, “

Should Dad be forbidden to drive? His vision is poor; he’s had one minor accident. Still, he seems to drive the four blocks to the store okay.”

                Situations like these are difficult for families. Yet, the decline of a parent’s health or memory often requires adult sons and daughters to become involved in decisions about the parent’s life.

Dealing with age-related changes in our parents is a relatively new phenomenon. For example, in

1900 only one out of 25 people in the United States was age 65 or older; today one out of eight people is in this age group.  The “old-old” population—those age 85 and older—is the fastest growing age group in the United States, and it’s expected to be five times larger in 2050 than it is today.

                The older people are, the more likely they are to be frail, have multiple health problems, and need support from family, friends, and community services. Many people never face major concerns about aging parents. Their parents remain physically and mentally active until death and need little or no assistance. However, poor health, limited financial resources, or loneliness present serious problems for some older people and may require family members to make some tough decisions. Usually, there are no simple solutions. Each older person and family is unique. The right answer for one family may be inappropriate for another.

                Have you spent time planning for the part you might play in your parents’ later years? Most of us avoid thinking about the possibility that someday our parents won’t be independent and self-sufficient. A recent survey by AARP found that two-thirds of adult children had never talked with their parents about potential age-related needs and changes. Yet, planning well in advance makes decisions easier in difficult times, increases understanding about a parent’s wishes, and reduces uncertainty and disagreements. For most people, it’s less threatening to discuss aging-related issues—such as declining health, long-term care, living arrangements, financial and legal issues, end-of-life decisions, and death and funeral arrangements— before they need help. For example, you might ask, “What if you could no longer manage alone in your home, what would you want to do?” Or, “Who would you want to make decisions for you if you could no longer make decisions about your own health care?”

                One approach is to look for “natural” opportunities to talk. These might be when an older family member or friend has a health crisis, can no longer drive, enters a care facility, dies without her affairs in order, is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, or moves in with an adult son or daughter. Another opportunity for discussion might be when you are preparing your own will or powers of attorney for finances and health care.

                Adults often find an aging parent needs support at a time when their own lives and responsibilities are the most complicated. You may feel pulled in several directions—raising your children, being supportive to a spouse, helping parents, and/or working outside the home—all at the same time. The following guidelines may help to reduce the strain.

                • Communicate openly

                • Involve your parent in decision making

                • Allow your parent to risk

                • Avoid promises and “shoulds”

                • Hold a family meeting

                • Avoid unrealistic expectations of family members

 

                A counselor, physician, financial adviser, lawyer, or social worker may be helpful. Involvement in a family support group also can provide answers to problems of caregiving and can reduce social and emotional isolation. Sharing with others who are living through the same experiences can promote a sense of “I am not alone’’ and provide both a source for learning practical skills and an opportunity to vent feelings with others who understand.

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