How to Gently Take On the Caregiver Role with Aging Parents
If you have begun to notice changes to your aging parent’s well-being, it can be hard to know how to respond. Do you ignore the forgotten bill payments? Do you pretend you don’t notice the new bruises from a recent fall? Do you let it slide that their refrigerator is full of expired food or empty?
How do you know when it’s the right time to step in as your parent’s caregiver? It can be difficult to make the transition from child to caregiver. Your elderly parent may not want your help. They may not realize they are struggling. They may hide their struggles from you to protect their independence.
So how can you respectfully step in to become your aging parent’s caregiver?
How to Begin the Caregiving Journey
If you are struggling with how to go about caring for your aging parent, here are some steps to make it easier on both of you.
- Evaluate Well-being: If you aren’t sure if your aging parent needs caregiving help, your first step should be to figure out what kind of help, if any, your aging parent needs. Are they struggling with nutrition? Are they having memory problems? Are they struggling with falls or home safety?
- Evaluate Safety: One you’ve evaluated their overall well-being, take a look at their home safety. Prevent falls, reduce fire risks and make sure they are taking medication properly. If they are still driving, how safe are they on the road?
- Make a List: Once you’ve evaluated their well-being and safety, make a list of problem areas to discuss with your parent and siblings.
- Handling Resistance: If your aging parent doesn’t want help, you may need to start slowly and provide support in areas they are willing to accept help. For example, if you notice your parent isn’t eating well, offer to have meals delivered or have groceries delivered. If you notice you parent has been falling, offer to help fall-proof their home and find fall prevention exercises for them to do at home. Don’t make large sweeping changes. Take baby steps.
- Getting Support: If your aging parent is resistant to help, you may need to rope in siblings or other family to help them understand that they are loved and you all want what’s best for them. Perhaps if you all work together, your parent won’t feel like they are burdening their loved ones.
Making the Transition to Caregiver
Even if you take all of the steps suggested above, depending on your family’s dynamics, it can be difficult to go from child to caregiver. Your aging parent may not consider your advice valuable. You may not feel comfortable stepping in. So how do you move forward?
You may need to speak with your parent’s physician. If you aren’t already their medical durable power of attorney, you will need to go with them to their next medical visit.
If you haven’t already stepped in as medical durable power of attorney, that should be your first step with your parent. In fact, you should assign someone the role for your care. We never know what can happen and it is best to be prepared, particularly if you don’t have a spouse.
Depending on your aging parent’s physician’s suggestions, you may get a game plan that both of you can agree on, or you’ll need to slowly provide support when it is needed. If their physician is concerned about nutritional needs being met, you can support your parent by having meals delivered, groceries delivered or preparing meals for them yourself.
If their physician is concerned about balance issues, they may prescribe physical therapy or a fall prevention class. You can also work with your aging parent to make their home environment safer by checking their fall risks. Once you’ve attacked fall risks, your parent may accept your help in reducing other at home safety risks.
Unfortunately, some physicians don’t like to step in, for whatever reason. I had a 91 year old client who was battling vertigo that came with vomiting spells. The vertigo would happen at random times, not as a result of a specific incident. She also had problems with her hearing and motor skills. She asked her doctor if she could still drive (she was fairly unsafe without the vertigo) and he said that she could drive as long as she felt safe. I’m not going to lie, my jaw literally dropped. I couldn’t say anything since I wasn’t a relative but I was shocked by the physician’s irresponsible response.
If your parent has a physician who doesn’t want to step in, you’ll need to be supportive of your parent’s needs and respect the boundaries they set up, as long as they are safe. Of course, if there are safety concerns, you may need to be more assertive and find ways to provide caregiving support without making them feel less in control.
I worked with a family who handled this well. They noticed a decline in their mother, so first, they hired a transportation service to come in and take her wherever she needed to go. They booked three rides per week but the destination was her choice. She had access to money to spend on shopping and her daughters had necessities delivered so that even if she forgot to purchase food, she had a full refrigerator.
As she began to decline physically, they hired a cleaning service to come in while she was on her weekly trips. It meant that she didn’t have to feel uncomfortable having someone in her space when she was home. Eventually they began hiring caregivers to come in a few hours a week. Everything was done gradually so that it didn’t feel like her whole world was changing at once.
If you have the luxury of time, this is the way to go. Of course, if your parent suddenly falls ill or has a rapid change in health or cognitive ability, you won’t be able to slowly increase caregiving support. You’ll need to do what is best for your parent’s well-being in the safest, healthiest manner.