Caring for our aging parents can be an overwhelming responsibility and emotionally stressful for everyone involved - but it can offer huge rewards as well. To the extent possible, allow your parent to maintain some level of independence. The ability to participate in decisions about their own care giving is important to their emotional well being. It's unsettling to give up control over your everyday routine and possibly have to move in with relatives or a senior care facility. You should expect and be prepared for some degree of emotional distress and depression over the realization that their independence has been lost or diminished.
Making the Decision to Intervene
Sometimes this decision is made for you due to a parent's serious health complications or financial hardship. In other cases, and much more difficult to deal with, there is simply a gradual decline in the ability of the parent to effectively care for themselves and their daily responsibilities. Maintain regular contact with your aging parent so you can monitor their health and mental state.
Preparing Your Home
If you come to the conclusion that it is in your parent's best interest to move in with you, there are several things to consider and prepare for. In addition to a bedroom, make some accommodations for them in other areas of the house as well. . . a drawer or cabinet in the kitchen just for them, a reserved area in the medicine cabinet, and a favorite chair or other piece of furniture in the family room can help them feel more at home.
If small children frequent your home, be sure that all medications are securely stored out of their reach. Create clear walkways for parents who require assistive devices such as a walker or power chair. According to the National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one out of every three people age 65 and older falls each year. Older adults are hospitalized for fall-related injuries five times more often than they are for injuries from other causes. Of those who fall, 20-30% suffer moderate to severe injuries that reduce mobility and independence, and increase the risk of premature death. Take steps to prevent falls throughout your home - don't forget showers and bathtubs.
If you live in a major city, driving may not be so much of an issue as long as public transportation is available. However, if your parent is accustomed to driving themselves around, you need to make sure that they are still capable of driving safely. When the time comes that they cannot, you must take steps to discontinue their driving rights to ensure both their safety and the safety of others.
Balancing a checkbook or maintaining accurate financial records may become overwhelming for an aging parent. To ensure they are not destined for financial ruin, overdrafting checks or subject to identity theft, it is essential that you work with your parent to assume some responsibility for their finances. You can ease into this by allowing them to continue paying their own bills while you take care of the bookkeeping.
Depending on your situation, you may want to obtain a Power of Attorney so you have the authority to make decisions on behalf of your parent on any financial or medical issues.
Brace yourself for this if you're unfamiliar with medical billing issues and dealing with insurance companies. Should the time come that you need to manage your parent's medical care, be sure to take advantage of help resources (such as the NCOA - see link below) and familiarize yourself with the terms and limitations of their insurance coverage. It's also a good idea to set up a filing system to track insurance payments and medical billing. In my experience, filing paperwork by the date of service was the easiest way to cross-reference and match the Explanation of Benefits (EOB) statements with the provider statements.
You should be aware of any changes in your aging parent's mental health (e. g. , forgetfulness, confusion, etc. ). A decline in mental acuity could simply be the result of dementia or it could be a symptom of an underlying condition. In either case, you should consult with your parent's doctor to investigate the cause and possible treatment.
For more information about aging, visit the National Council on Aging .
For more information and resources for elder care, visit http://www.OtherSideof40.com , a site focused on issues of women in their 40s and 50s.