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It can be difficult to watch your parents age, especially if you are the caregiver accountable for their aging lifestyle. You may feel dejected or dismal about the aging changes happening in your parents’ lives including the change in the personal relationship you have with each of them. However, there are some empowering tips you can take away from the aging process and the circumstances that come with it.
Positive Changes Down the Road
There will probably be inspiring encounters you may have as the caregiver of your parents. The issue is, you may not feel or become mindful of them until years after the fact. The fact is that as a caregiver the daily routine becomes tiring and somewhat emotionally exhausting which may cause the positive things to slide right by.
Ralph Waldo Emerson’s commented on aging and caregiving “It is one of the most beautiful compensations of life, that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.” Basically, by becoming the caregiver of your parents, in turn it will help you evolve! Remember that providing for your parents is doing what eventually may need to be done for you if the circumstances ever arise.
Grasping the Sweetness of Old Age
There are many times when being up close and personal with somebody maturing, can regularly turn into naptime. The time in between the naps of discussion and story telling can create lifelong memories that can be told from generation to generation. Specifically, when you’re tired and baffled from a long day of your caregiver role, remember that your loved one may say something extremely touching, and it can remind you how important it is that the person is there with you and you with them. It is these sweet moments that will surprise you as you handle the day-by-day obligations included with caregiving.
You Figure Out How You Want to Age
When you see your parents aging, you begin to reflect and think about the way you want to age. You don’t just figure out how to recognize health issues and where you want to live as you age, you also begin to look to your parents for advice and their aging process as a standard to follow!
You’re Reminded of the Specialness and Fragility of Life
There is boldness we feel when we’re younger. Our bodies feel solid and it draws us into feeling as though we are invincible which we’re definitely not.
There are myriad reasons why your parents may need to move into your family home. These reasons range from one of your parents passing away and the other being unable or unwilling to live alone, to their needing more care than you can provide unless they are under your roof, to their not having enough money saved up to continue to age in place or to move into an assisted living facility. Regardless of the reasons why you are opening your doors to your aging loved ones, you will want to find a way to make them feel welcome and at home in their new living space.
If you find that you’re trying to move your parents from the home in which they’ve lived for decades into a small space – in some cases a spare room in your home – there will likely be the need for downsizing of their possessions. Rather than trying to move all of their belongings from their home into a space at your house, spend some time with them going through their possessions and determining what they absolutely cannot live without or what you may be able to give to another family member as a gift to keep in the family.
Here are some tips to make the transition easier and to make the room in which they will be living in your home more of a home-like feeling for them:
- If the room is small and they will be using it as a combination living room/bedroom setting you will want to make the best use of the small space. This can be done by painting the room a light color, make it feel brighter by using light, airy curtains and by using light colored bedspreads and furniture coverings.
- If you’re hanging paintings in the room, forget the rule about hanging them at eye level (this makes a small room feel even more cramped) hang them higher because this creates an illusion of a larger space.
- Use large, intricate mirrors to make the room seem visually larger. Place a large mirror on a wall opposite a window to “double” the feeling of the space.
- Using end tables, chairs or beds with legs rather than styles that are chunky and sit on the floor can make a room feel more airy and open.
- You don’t have to downsize furniture to accommodate a smaller room. Make certain the furniture in the room is comfortable and usable. If your parents like larger pieces of furniture, opt for light colored covers to brighten the space.
- Resist the urge, or help them resist the urge, to clutter the space up with knick knacks or collectibles. Filling every available space with memorabilia will instantly make it seem smaller.
- Look for pieces of furniture that can do double duty. For example, look for end tables or ottomans that also provide storage space. Use a bed skirt to conceal storage containers under the bed.
- Use lighting that is on the wall or ceiling, rather than cluttering up the space with table lamps. If necessary install motion activated lights or those on sensors that will turn off after a specified amount of time.
Moving your aging parents into the family home will certainly take adjustment on everyone’s part but with some thoughtful planning it can be a smooth transition for everyone.
For some, the role of caregiver for an ailing or aging parent is one that has been planned for. For others, being thrust into the role of caregiver, in many cases while still raising your own family and holding down a full time job, is not one for which you’re prepared.
Feeling overwhelmed, underprepared and even unappreciated are emotions many caregivers go through. You may feel guilt, anger, frustration, sadness and anxiety, but these feelings are natural. Along with the negative feelings that may ebb and flow during the course of caring for aging loved ones you will also experience gifts that come with that role including, compassion, courage, forgiveness and a sense of understanding and fulfillment.
Whether you’re trained in the area of health care or if this is your first experience caring for an aging or infirm relative, there are some steps you can take to familiarize yourself with what lies ahead and what you can do to navigate the changing family dynamics.
Below are some tips to help you as you move into your new role:
- Before you can begin helping your aging loved ones you need a baseline of information on what they need, how you can help, what signs and symptoms to look for. Ask their doctor if he’s seen changes in their health or behavior and what you should expect. Ask him to review the medications list and frequency the medications should be taken, it’s best to compare this list with the medications you have found in your parent’s home to make certain they are taking the correct medications.
- If your parents haven’t seen a doctor recently, make an appointment for a comprehensive check-up. There could be underlying medical conditions that could be easily addressed which could make it possible for them to age in place and which may make your role of caregiver an easier one. Also, ask the doctor at the visit whether he feels your parents are able to remain living independently. Keep in mind that if they are borderline with needing in home care or moving to an assisted living facility, simply equipping the home with a medical monitoring device and them with a medical alert pendant you may be able to extend the time they can remain in their own home.
- What exactly do your loved ones need? Are they keeping up with personal hygiene as in bathing and getting dressed for the day? Are they taking their medications as prescribed? Do you notice any signs that may be alarming; such as forgetting to turn off the stove when they’re done cooking? Are they able to keep up with light housework and cooking? Do they need help paying the bills or doing heavier outside yard work? If they are overwhelmed with cooking meals and are perhaps not eating as healthy as they should be? If that’s the case look into a Meals-on-Wheels program or prepare meals for them and deliver them throughout the week. Knowing what your parents need will help gauge the level of involvement.
- Involve your family members in the role of caregiver. Ask for help with items you simply cannot take on. Look into county-offered services for the aging. Make notes and keep a folder of information available for all family members on any signs of deterioration in your loved ones. Put all medical information and prescription information in that folder as well.
- Prepare for any eventuality. In the event your parents reach the point when they can no longer live alone, what will the options be for their living arrangements? Will they move in with a family member? Do they need to explore assisted living or nursing home arrangements? Begin researching these options now as you don’t want to have to make decisions in the event of an emergency and be faced with an untenable situation. Be sure to involve your loved ones in the conversations and ask what their feelings are on where they may eventually be living. Preparing could also mean looking into hiring a part time home healthcare aide or a nursing service to come in and check on their mental and physical health on occasion.
- Undertake a financial check-up and review legal documents. While your parents may be hesitant to share bank account or credit card information, impress upon them that sharing that information can help with long term care planning needs. If you, and other family members, have an understanding of their financial situation you will be better able to navigate the roads that lie ahead. You will also want to ask if your parents have a will. Where they keep their life insurance and medical insurance papers. Who do they want to designate as a healthcare proxy or power of attorney? This information needs to be decided upon prior to deterioration in mental or physical health as you don’t want to be making decisions under duress.
- Safety proof the home. If your parents are determined to age in place, then your role as caregiver could mean doing a safety check up of the home to make certain it is safe. Mobility issues plague many seniors and removing trip and fall hazards, making sure there are clear walkways and that the rugs are non skid and are securely in place can go a long way in keeping trip and fall incidents to a minimum. Make certain smoke alarms are installed and working. Check that hallways and rooms have proper lighting and consider installing motion activated lights. Check the water temperatures to make sure that hot water isn’t going to scald them. Make certain they have access to adequate healthy foods and that they are, in fact, eating the food you’ve shopped for or prepared. Post a list of emergency phone numbers by the telephone and in other locations around the house where they can easily access them. Keep in mind, though that in the event of a medical emergency or a trip or fall accident they may not be able to reach the telephone and may be in too much pain or unable to dial the telephone – this again, is a reason to give them access to a medical alert pendant. At the push of a button emergency medical personnel are summoned and your parents will have access to an experienced call center representative from LifeFone who will stay with them until help arrives. LifeFone representatives will also call family and doctors to alert them.
Caregivers sometimes find themselves toiling in isolation. It may make sense to interact with other caregivers, ask them how they address particular situations and just simply talk with someone who understands what you’re going through. Being a caregiver for your parents, is one that may be fraught with tension but it can also be a time to reconnect and build new memories that will carry over for a lifetime.
Just as we are different from each of our siblings, so too are our aging parents unique in their own way. Whether your parents bicker or get along well, if the time comes when they can no longer age in place, you and other family members will need to look at options for caring for them. In some cases you and your spouse may find yourselves face with the situation where each of you had an aging relative or two that you’ve suddenly become responsible for and that makes for an even more precarious balancing act between both sides of the family as well as your own family.
What do you do, and how can you balance the duties that come along with caring for two or more aging relatives? Here are some suggestions:
- Determine whether any of the seniors in your life can live alone. If being alone is possible with assistance, consider gifting them with a home medical alert device and a personal medical alert pendant as this can offer peace of mind to all involved as well as provide them access to immediate medical care if necessary.
- Would hiring an in-home part-time caregiver help relieve some of the caregiving burden upon you and your family members? Would your parents be amenable to having a “stranger” come into the house to help them out? This is something that would need to be discussed up front. Is there an outreach at the church or local religious association they attend that could provide assistance? Even getting help with cooking, cleaning, yard work or running errands can help relieve some of the burden of caregiving and allow you to simply sit and relax when you visit your parents and spend time with them rather than having to rush around to do the housework and errands.
- If you are caring for both parents and in-laws, how do you divide the time between them so there are no hurt feelings of being left out? This could come down to a matter of “who needs the most care.”
- You will have to learn to ask for help and delegate tasks. If you and your spouse are both engaged in caregiving and you have siblings in the area, you will need to pick up a phone and ask for help. You can’t do it all alone and you shouldn’t have to. Being an effective caregiver means knowing your limits and reaching out for help before you burn out.
- Even if you have healthy parents, but your spouse has parents in need of care, don’t neglect to spend time with your own, healthier relatives. Feelings of hurt and neglect can quickly boil over into a stressful family situation.
Being in a caregiving situation is stressful, but can be managed with time and effort and thoughtful care. Adding a second or third elderly relative into the mix will certainly add to the challenges. Make certain you take time to remember the care you’re giving may allow your parents to age in place for a longer period of time and use the time you’re spending with them to build memories for those times when they are no longer with you.
Home safety precautions protect seniors from accidents and injuries. While some may require minor renovations, other home safety measures can be implemented in a matter of minutes.
We may think of home safety instinctively when it comes to small children. But it’s important to keep in mind regarding seniors too. Whether seniors living at home have arthritis, are prone to falls or suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, home safety is an important priority for caregivers. It’s also something to evaluate on a regular basis as seniors age and their health needs change.
Consider these tips for “parent-proofing” a senior’s home.
1. Make sure all living spaces are well lit.
Eyesight diminishes with age. So extra light can make a significant difference to a senior’s safety. Some suggestions for improving lighting around the house:
- If a room is dimly lit, change to higher wattage light bulbs.
- Leave the bathroom light on at night.
- Make sure light switches are available at the top and bottom of staircases.
2. Install a personal response service.
Safety at the press of a button. Medical alert bracelets, pendants, wristbands or tabletop consoles are among the devices seniors can use to contact a call center in case of an emergency.
3. Turn down the water heater temperature, if needed.
To prevent accidental burns or scalding, set the water heater temperature to 120° Fahrenheit or lower. This is also a good way to keep energy bills lower.
4. Install railings and/or grab bars where needed.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one-third of adults age 65 and over falls each year. These falls result in both nonfatal and fatal injuries. For safety and privacy, add grab bars or handles to the shower and tub (inside and out) as well as on either side of the toilet. All interior and exterior staircases should have sturdy rails too.
5. Clear the floors.
Remove throw rugs, electrical wires, low-lying decorations and similar items that can cause a senior to trip, slip or fall. Do this in every room or the house, and make sure all walkways and doorways are clear. Seniors who require a cane or walker will need ample space in hallways and doorways to turn around.
6. Offer help in the kitchen.
Seniors who still enjoy cooking may have shakey hands. Being with them to prepare meals and perform tasks that require added dexterity and mobility can help them maintain a sense of independence.
7. Put household items and appliances within reach.
Groceries, dishes, small appliances and other everyday items should be within easy reach for seniors. If they have to get on a stool to reach something, it risks injury. Similarly, bending to a low cabinet might also present challenges. Talk to the senior about how you can rearrange cabinets and countertops to make items more accessible.
8. Organize the closet.
Getting dressed and undressed can be difficult for seniors with arthritis, shakey hands or vision problems. Organize the closets to make clothes, coats and shoes more accessible. If necessary, take seniors shopping for comfortable clothing with minimal buttons.
9. Go through the medicine cabinet.
Dispose of expired prescription and over-the-counter medications. Some seniors may benefit from a bubble pack or more convenient dispenser. Medication tracking and reminder tools can help seniors remember to take pills when they’re supposed to, or alert caregivers when a senior has forgotten. If necessary, caregivers may want to lock medicines in a cabinet to ensure a senior’s safety.
10. Clean out the fridge.
Poor nutrition leads to poor health. Seniors need adequate calcium and vitamin D to keep their bones healthy and lower the risk of fractures. Those with heart problems, diabetes and other health conditions require a healthy, well-monitored diet. If cooking and grocery shopping are difficult for a senior, offer to help or have meals delivered. Maybe an in-home cook is in order, if that’s an option financially.
Feeling Safe at Home
“Parent-proofing” a senior’s home is all about safety. But it’s also something to talk about with the senior. Have an honest conversation that emphasizes your concerns about safety and avoiding injury. Seniors should feel that although these changes are happening around them, it’s still their home.
Do you have additional home safety tips for senior caregivers? Please share your comments below.
- Home Safety Checklist for Seniors Living Alone
- Top 8 Tips for Senior Fall Prevention
- 9 Ways to Take Charge of Healthy Aging
“Dana Larsen is a senior living writer whose mission is to educate and empower caregivers and equip them with the resources and knowledge they need to not only care for their elderly loved ones, but also care for themselves.
On a personal note, Dana is mother to two bright-eyed, zealous children and helps as a caregiver for her vivacious and quirky 88-year-old grandmother who suffers from Alzheimer’s. Her passions include dancing, yoga, traveling, good food and the arts. She graduated with honors from University of Washington with a degree in English and Communications and achieved Technical Communications Certification from Bellevue College. View Dana’s Google Profile.”
Regardless of your upbringing –whether you have positive or negative memories – moving your parents into your home has the potential to cause a shift in your marriage and in the way you interact with your children. Grandparents in the home can either bring a calming effect or amp up the stress. There are ways to deal with the potential pitfalls so that you can embrace the changes and make the most of the time you have with your aging parents.
Here are our tips:
- All parties involved need to be realistic about the significant life changes you will be facing. Your parents will be giving up their independence and may feel resentful, you will be giving up space in your home and have to deal with your parents in residence and may feel frustrated at a lack of privacy and 24/7 caregiving.
- If you and your parents have any long-lived grievances they should be discussed prior to a move.
- Talk with your parents and come to terms on who will do what, how much involvement you will have in each other’s lives, etc. For example, will you be the chief cook? Do you have to take time off from work to care for them or drive them to appointments or do you have other siblings that can help out. Remember, just because they’re living in your home full time doesn’t mean you can’t ask for assistance when needed.
- Will your parents be responsible for their own laundry and cooking? How will you divide the household chores (if they’re physically able to help)? Will you need to be financially compensated for their moving in – helping with groceries, etc.
- Don’t make a move unilaterally. Ask your siblings, your spouse, your children; regardless of how well you interact with your parents and how good a relationship your spouse and children have, it is still a life-changing event.
- Recognize that at some point, your parents may reach a stage where you will need the help of trained caregivers or they may need to make a move into an assisted living facility or a nursing home. These are items that should be discussed up front, with the entire family.
- If you and your spouse are employed outside of the home, it may be wise to consider setting up the home with a medical alert device as a way to provide your parents with access to immediate medical care if necessary. At the push of a button on their personal medical alert pendant, they could summon assistance in the event of a health emergency or trip or fall accident while you weren’t home. These devices cost pennies a day but bring untold value in peace of mind for all involved.
Keep in mind that having your aging parents move in can give a family time to bond and build memories that will last a lifetime. Additionally, it may very well set a great example for your children as to how family cares for one another in a time of need.
As our parents continue to age, caregivers need to realize that they will be living longer than adults did in the past. With longer life comes an extended period of time to have to deal with financial issues, healthcare, legal matters and eventually long-term care situations. When it comes time to sit down as a family, with your aging relatives, there are many items that should be discussed with them.
Remember, your parents are accustomed to being the caregivers are still likely look at their role in your life as the one who is in charge. They will have to be gently led to the idea that they have to relinquish control and allow other family members in to help address key concern areas.
These areas that the entire family needs to be aware of include:
- The state of their financial affairs. This includes the amount of money they have coming in and how much they have to pay in monthly bills
- Do they have a will or a living will? Do family members know where the financial records, insurance policies, tax returns, bank account statements, etc. are filed?
- Do they have long term care insurance?
- Look into the community services that are available and what services your parents either need now or may need in the future; this includes information on whether and where they will live if they need a long term care or assisted living facility
- Have they applied for, and are they receiving, all of the pension and Social Security benefits to which they are entitled?
- Who is, or will be in charge of finances once your parents can no longer do this themselves? You may need to set up a power of attorney so there will be a seamless transition in the event your parents become incapacitated and can no longer manage their finances
- What kind of health insurance do your parents have? Do you, and they, understand the coverage available as well as any deductibles that may be involved in the policy?
- Have they applied for Medicare or Medicaid if eligible?
- Do you have a list of their medications and dosages?
- Is there a list of your parents’ doctors available for all family members in the event of an emergency?
When it comes to your parents’ current living situation, here are some items you will need to discuss with them and take into consideration when determining whether they can, or should remain in their current household:
- Are they healthy enough to age in place?
- Do they need help with household chores such as cooking, cleaning or laundry for which you could hire occasional help?
- Has the house been age-proofed? Is the bathroom easily accessible for those with limited mobility? Are the rugs non-slip? Are the items in the cupboards easily accessible?
- Have you made an investment in a home medical alert system? These devices made it possible for your aging relatives to age in place with the peace of mind with knowing that if your relatives suffer a slip or fall or other health emergency, they will be able to summon assistance at the push of a button on their medical alert pendant.
- If they become housebound is there a community service organization that provides Meals-on-Wheels assistance?
- Are there local community and senior centered organizations that can provide low cost home repairs or modifications to bring the house up to date on senior friendly options?
With care and planning, prior to an immediate need, your aging parents and the family members can work toward a smooth transition from total independence to assisted living in some form.
- Five Eldercare Resources You Need To Know About (lifefoneblog.com)
If you and your siblings find your elderly parents can no longer live safely at home, it usually falls to one of the siblings to provide the home care that the elderly relative needs. This might be a very workable solution for the short term, but when the needs of the aging relative become too demanding, especially if the caregiver needs to attend to his or her own family and work, the burden of the care-giving will need to be distributed.
Issues usually arise when the aging parent needs more than just cursory care or a driver for grocery store and doctor’s visits. It’s been shown that an individual that is charged with intensive care-giving duties in addition to their own home and family obligations experience burnout and physical and emotional health issues. One of the primary reasons many elderly are placed into an assisted living situation stems from the fact that the caregiver’s health is suffering and is limiting the care they can provide the elderly relative.
Family members can help unburden the caregiver by providing opportunities to step away from the situation. This can be done by setting up a family schedule, hiring a home health aide, and equipping the aging parent’s home with a medical alert system to take away worry and fear when the parent is home alone. A home medical alert system and medical emergency pendant offer round-the-clock peace of mind for the elderly and the rest of the family.
There is no clear cut answer when it comes to easing the burden of senior care. Sharing the load with other family members can certainly offer the main caregiver an opportunity to take a day or two off to rest and recharge. If there are no other siblings or relatives available to provide respite, see if the family finances will allow for an in-home healthcare provider. In some cases, insurance policies may cover the cost of in-home healthcare. Consider too the idea of hiring someone to come in once or twice a week to do light housekeeping and even cook a few meals that your relatives can simply heat and eat. There are services that can provide relief to help ease the stress and potential burnout on the primary caregiver.
- Council on the Aging is a municipal agency in your community that provides assistance and advice to caregivers and is a resource for aging healthcare services.
- National Family Caregiver’s Association provides information and advice to those who find themselves in the role of caregiver.
- The Family Caregiver Alliance provides information, hints, and tips for caregivers dealing with parents that want to age at home.
Family members need to begin building a support system to help with senior care prior to when it is actually needed. Being prepared means that once a health issue occurs you won’t have to operate in panic mode to find ways to balance caring for your own work, family and home obligations as well as caring for your aging relative. Also, as a caregiver, you also need to give yourself permission to take a day off, and having a home medical device in your aging relative’s home offers peace of mind to be able to do just that.
Your parents spent so many years caring for you and maybe even your children, but now the time has come for you to make decisions on their care. How do you make the decision on what is best for them? There are many items to take into consideration and many of the decisions you need to make are based on how well your parents are currently taking care of themselves. When evaluating your parents’ situation, consider their personal hygiene, on-going medical care, any safety issues inside the home and day-to-day living which includes eating, cooking, and running errands.
Here are five tips from LifeFone, a provider of home medical alarm systems:
1. If both of your parents are still in the home, are they both at roughly the same level of health? Does one need more care and is the other parent able to provide that care?
2. Is your aging parent able to walk, move, eat, cook, and look after him or herself on a daily basis?
3. Can your parents stay in their own home or do they need assisted living care? With the installation of a home medical alarm system, will your parents be able to stay in the home for a longer period of time?
4. Do your parents need round-the-clock care or are they able to get by on a daily basis with minimal supervision.
5. Is the home safety-proofed in a way that makes it easier for them to live independently and age at home?
Once you’ve answered the questions above, you – and your aging parents – will be in a better position to make a decision on care. If your parents are healthy enough to take care of themselves and stay in the home, either on their own or with the help of a visiting nurse or with another family member dropping by, then allowing them to age at home is likely an option. If your parents are able to cook, clean and monitor their own medications then chances are they can age at their own home – which you will likely find is what they would prefer. Adding a medical alarm system will enhance the peace of mind for the family.
If there is a family member that is able to take care of your aging parents by making frequent drop-in visits to monitor their health and help out with household chores and running errands, the likelihood that your loved one can live independently at home increases. Another way to make it possible for your parents to age at home is by making certain the house is equipped for safety. You will want to make certain there are no trip or fall hazards such as loose items on the floor, throw rugs that could cause a potential trip hazard. Additionally, move as many items as possible to lower shelves for ease in reaching them without having to use a step stool or ladder.
Even if your parents are in good health, a trip or fall or any other health emergency could arise that could render them helpless and unable to call for help. Equipping their home with a medical alert system or a medical alert bracelet makes it easy for them to simply push a button to call for medical assistance. LifeFone, with its home medical alert systems, offers seniors a way to age at home while providing their family members with peace of mind.