6 steps for adjusting to your new role as a caregiver

Caring for elderly parents is never easy, especially when their health is deteriorating. In many ways, it can feel like you are parenting your parent, and it is a change that can be hard for everyone to accept.

Here are some tips on little things you can do that will make this apparent role reversal easier for everyone.

Pay attention: Take note of their appearance, they way they walk and things around their home. Are they keeping up with their daily routines? Do they have trouble walking? Did leave the stove on? Do they forget directions to well-known places? Look for red flag that may be a warning sign of depression, dementia or a physical impairment.

Plan ahead: Most of us like to think we won’t need long term care. Yet 70 percent of Americans – when we’re over the age of 65 – will need some kind of long-term care for at least three years.  With the average nursing home today costing over $80,000 annually, stories of children draining their parents’ life savings in a few shorts years are all too common. Caring for an elderly loved one is a huge financial burden and families need to plan ahead so they’re not caught off guard.

Implement change gradually:  At any age, overnight changes are hard. Don’t wait until the heat of the moment to talk about tough decisions down the road. Discuss assisted living options early on, balancing preferences with financial realities. Getting a head start on these types of conversations helps your parent(s) mentally prepare for next steps, making dramatic changes much easier to digest.

Help them remember: Have you ever lost your train of thought mid-sentence? Walked upstairs and forgot what you were looking for? Imagine if this happened constantly – every single day. While it’s frustrating that Mom or Dad seems to forget every conversation you have with them, it’s even more frustrating, and even scary, to feel your mind slipping. Post a checklist by the door of things they need to check before they leave the house. If they have an important appointment, consider giving them a quick phone call to remind them. If they have a smartphone, maybe download some apps to help out – like this one that makes it easy to remember your meds.

Ensure a well-balanced diet: Though a well-balanced diet is important throughout your life, it’s especially important for the elderly. Try to encourage your parent(s) to eat more fruit, vegetables, whole grains and lean sources of protein and dairy products. Elderly parents may not feel thirsty or remember the importance of drinking water. Encourage them to drink water throughout the day to ensure they are properly hydrated.

Let them have some control: Let your parents have a say in making decisions as they age. Offer options, not advice. Their health and safety is important, but so is their self-worth. We all have a need to control our own life and that feeling does not disappear as we age. Respect your parents’ right to make their own decisions and they will be more willing to go along with changes as they are made.

Photo Credit: Anne Worner

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