Caring for Elderly Parents: What You Need to Know
For much of your life, your parents took care of you. However, there may come a time when the roles are reversed and it’s time for you to start taking care of them. Whether your senior parents are in good health and that prospect seems like a faraway idea, it’s a big responsibility to take on.
We get it: the prospect of caring for your elderly parents can feel overwhelming and intimidating. But taking the time to prepare will help you know better what to expect, and it will help you feel more ready for the task at hand.
Assess Their Needs
First and foremost, assess their needs. There is a range of help that you’ll want to consider, from dropping in a few times a week to moving your parent into your home. Keep an eye out for tell-tale signs that they need assistance.
Jeffery Grossman of Commonwise Home Care advises to “keep a notepad handy, and make a note of each time your elderly parent needs help with a certain task. After a week you should have a detailed overview of the scope of care that’s needed.”
This will also help you to avoid burnout. Taking on too much potentially unnecessary responsibility at once will leave you feeling tired and frustrated, and it will be more difficult to transition.
Preparing Living Arrangements
It’s very possible that your parent may need to move in with you so that you can give them the help that they need. You will want to prepare their living arrangements so that they can be as comfortable as possible.
Make sure they have their own room and bathroom. If it’s possible, you might even give them more space than that. Be sure to have a living room and maybe even a kitchen. Help them choose some of the things that they love in their current home to bring to their new space. This will help them feel more comfortable.
Ensure that everything is easily accessible. Will they have to deal with stairs? Is there wheelchair accessibility that you need to think about? Do you need to purchase items for their space, such as a specialized toilet?
Supplies to Keep on Hand
There are a handful of items that you will want to keep on hand in order to properly care for your elderly parent. Here are some items that we highly recommend:
Non-slip bath mat
A hand-held showerhead, especially if they need help bathing and showering
Bath or shower adhesive tread stickers
Reusable bed pads
Smartphone with access to specialized emergency services
A supportive and comfortable bed (if possible, one that adjusts)
At the end of the day, your ultimate goal in everything you’re doing for your elderly parent is to help keep them comfortable. Having the right products will make a world of difference in helping them feel more at ease, especially during that transition period at the very beginning.
Activities of Daily Living
Activities of daily living, also referred to as ADLs, define the basic functions and needs that need to be met in order for your parent to maintain a positive physical and emotional well-being. Some they may be able to do on their own, others they may need your help with from start to finish. Basic ADLs include:
Mobility (ex. Getting in and out of bed)
Bathing and showering
Personal hygiene (brushing teeth, styling hair, basic grooming)
Toilet hygiene (getting on and off the toilet, cleaning after using the toilet)
This is the part where many elderly parents struggle. For most of their life, they have been able to do all of these things, many of them quite private, on their own. Transitioning into letting someone help them do things like getting dressed or bathing can be a challenging mental hurdle.
Be patient. Do your very best to help them to maintain their dignity. This is a transition for both of you. If one thing doesn’t work, try looking at it from a different perspective and see if there’s another way your parent can be involved.
Instrumental Activities of Daily Living
In addition to activities of daily living, there are also instrumental activities of daily living, referred to as IADLs. While IADLs aren’t exactly necessary, they’re definitely a big part of independent living that your elderly parent may need help with once living with you. IADL’s include:
Maintaining a budget and paying bills
Cleaning their home or space
Managing and taking prescription medications
Again, while taking care of grocery shopping may not be as essential as something like self-feeding, that doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be prioritized. These are things that your elderly parent has been doing for themselves for some time, and transitioning into getting help for these tasks can be challenging.
As much as you can, allow them to play a part in these tasks. Go to the grocery store together. Let them come with you to pick up their medications. Give them a simple chore to do, such as dusting or putting their books in order, while you do something more physical, such as vacuuming.
Outside Resources to Consider
You’ll also want to keep in mind that there may come a point where you need to call in additional help. There is a wide variety of in-home care resources available for professionals to come into your home and lend a helping hand.
One common option is nursing care. Typically prescribed by your parent’s doctor, this is where a nurse will come into your home to address certain medical needs. This could be anything from ostomy care to helping with pain control, or even to give your parent medication.
You might also want to consider a home health aid. Depending on your abilities and schedule, you may not be available to help your parent with everything they need. A home health aid helps with things like getting in and out of bed, personal hygiene, getting dressed, etc.
Other resources include:
Above all, remember that there is nothing wrong with admitting that there might be a task that you need help with. This is a big responsibility, and looking into receiving professional help for some aspects of caring for your elderly parent will take some of the stress off your plate, and it will help you to perform the other tasks to their fullest.
Taking Care of Yourself
Here’s the thing: caregiver burnout is real. Caring for your elderly parent will likely be long-term, and the responsibility can be daunting, leaving you tired and stressed. When ignored, caregiver burnout can take a serious toll on your mental and even physical health.
Some typical signs of caregiver burnout include exhaustion, even after you’ve had what should be a good night’s sleep. You neglect taking care of your own needs, and you can’t ever seem to relax. You might also notice that you’re less patient than you once were. You may have trouble concentrating, or even feel resentful toward your situation.
There are a number of solutions to taking care of caregiver burnout. First and foremost, don’t be afraid to ask for help. There is absolutely no shame in saying that you can’t do it all on your own. If you can, ask a sibling to come over for a period of time to lend a hand. Look into hiring outside care.
Be mindful not to let caregiving take over your life. It is a part of your day-to-day, but it doesn’t have to consume you. Make it a priority to make plans with friends and family. Get out of the house on your own. Make time every day to do something for yourself that you love, such as reading a book or watching your favorite show.
Caregiver burnout has the potential to take a hit at your health, either physically, mentally, or sometimes both. Make sure your staying on top of your own doctor’s visits, as well as getting your daily exercise in. You might also consider seeing a therapist or joining a caregiver support group. This is a great way to connect with individuals who are experiencing the same struggles you are and can work wonders for helping you through those tough moments with your elderly parent.
Making a Difference
It’s an incredible thing that you’re doing. Caring for elderly parents can be equal parts challenging and rewarding. We understand that it can look extremely intimidating at the start, but having the right supplies and mental tools will make all the difference, both for you and your parent.