The Best Ways to Take Care of an Aging Parent
Role Reversal: Tips for caring for parents at home
It’s very difficult for a person to provide the hands-on care all of the time- Carol Bradley Bursack, eldercare expert, syndicated newspaper columnist,
blogger and founder of the Minding Our Helpers website
In early April, Los Angeles County’s public health director, Dr. Barbara Ferrer, announced it was “perfectly appropriate” for people to pull their loved ones from long-term care facilities to protect them from the coronavirus.
A month later, Pennsylvania’s top health official, state Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine, drew scrutiny when she confirmed that she and her sister had removed their 95-year-old mother from a personal care home for the elderly.
Ferrer’s and Levine’s personal decisions made news because of their public profiles, at a time when the virus was ripping through long-term care facilities, where more than 40% of the nation’s coronavirus deaths have occurred.
But they were hardly alone. In addition to wanting to protect their loved ones from the virus, many people have wanted to save them from the severe loneliness caused by social isolation as facilities have eliminated or greatly restricted visitation to control the spread of the virus and limited contact between residents within facilities.
The long-term care industry has cautioned against acting rashly to remove residents because of the pandemic, saying seniors could be more at risk from the virus in intergenerational households than in their room where they’re shielded from outside contact.
In-home Elder Care on the Rise
Aside from the pandemic, adults caring for older adults is becoming more common in the United States. They comprised 19.2% of households in 2020, up from 16.6% in 2015, an increase of more than 8 million adult care providers, according to Caregiving in the U.S.
Regardless of the reason for the new dynamic, experts say there are some key things to keep in mind for people who are newly caring for their parents at home.
Carol Bradley Bursack, eldercare expert, syndicated newspaper columnist, blogger, and founder of the Minding Our Elders website, spent over two decades caring for a combination of 7 elders. It all began with a next-door neighbor who was deaf and going blind after his wife died and he had no children around. She cared for him for 5 years until his death, then cared for an aunt and uncle, her father and her mother- and father-in-law.
The first thing new caregivers should do, Bursack says, is to ensure that everyone in the household, including the parent, has a level of privacy, at least their own bathroom, bedroom, and TV, as long as cognitive issues don’t allow for it.
Another important thing to do right away is to arrange for respite time when a caregiver comes into the home to give the adult child a break, or the parent is taken to an adult day care center for a few hours.
“It’s very difficult for a person to provide the hands-on care all of the time,” Bursack notes. “It’s so wearing and then it becomes very difficult to become the best caregiver you can be because you’re so frazzled and worn out.”
Apps can also help new caregivers. For instance, CaringVillage can create a custom village designed to help communicate and coordinate care and you can include many people for different roles.
If the new caregiver is concerned about coordinating a long list of medications, try CareZone which can scan pill bottles to create a list of medications to share with doctors.
Patience is a Virtue
Personality issues also can suddenly pose a challenge. For example, in sharing a kitchen, parents and adult children are used to do things their own way.
“The parent might have gotten so they don’t manage things that well in the kitchen but it can be very hard for the adult child to watch this,” Bursack says. “So, therefore, they want to jump in and say, no mom, do it this way, and mom says, I’ve been doing it for 80 years, I don’t need your advice. And the adult child is saying, yeah but it’s my home.”
Bursack says it can be very difficult for the adult parent to accept help from others, so adult children must learn how to approach the parent.
“Patience is huge,” Bursack says. “We have to put ourselves in their place. It may take them longer to do things than you. Do you respect their need for dignity and independence while you try to help them blend in with the family? If you have children, it might be difficult to get across that they need a little privacy. They may disagree with your child-raising tactics and give you grief about that.”
Assess Resources, Assemble the Team
Fully assessing the situation at the outset is important, agrees Amy Goyer, AARP’s Family and Caregiving Expert. Start with conversations about finances, legal issues, the housing situation, and the parent’s wishes for current and future care and lifestyle.
Next build your caregiving team, filling the gaps with additional supports as needed.
Goyer also stresses the need to line up respite and in-home care if needed. AARP’s Community Resource Finder can help you find local services, some of which are volunteers and some of which might be covered by Medicaid, depending on your situation.
A Worthwhile Endeavor
It might sound like a lot of stress, and indeed, studies have shown that adult caregivers can have a shorter life expectancy, while others have found the opposite is true. But Goyer says the rewards outweigh the costs. She cared for her parents after they had lived in a senior community for 3 years. “I can tell you that I have no regrets and that’s worth a lot,” Goyer says. “I was able to have more quality time with them and spent less time running back and forth to a facility. Because I had more control over their care, I told the paid caregivers what to do, determined their diet, and made sure they took their medicine. I brought them joy and that is worth a million bucks.”
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I have worked as a reporter at daily newspapers for 25 years, and now cover local government and politics at The South Bend (IN) Tribune. I was honored in 2019 to win the Hoosier State Press Association's Ray Moscowitz Award,which recognizes those who foster advancement of the First Amendment, for my reporting on mismanagement at the city's mass transit agency.
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