Caring for aging parents can be challenging and it requires a lot of crucial decisions. How do you keep your parents from feeling lonely and isolated? How do you know when it’s time to employ additional help or even opt for assisted living? And how do you help them make such a transition in the first place? Every situation is different, but if you’re struggling, it’s important to know that help is available.
Staying in Close Contact With Your Aging Parents
As your parents get older, it’s more important than ever to stay closely connected to them. A report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) found that nearly a quarter of seniors 65 and older are socially isolated, largely due to factors like living alone, struggling with chronic illness, and grappling with the loss of friends and family. This can be especially difficult for widowed or single parents who live alone.
Regular contact is essential. Visit as often as possible, and call your aging parent(s) just to chat, if only for a few minutes, as often as once per day. If you don’t have time to engage daily, you can set up a schedule with your other siblings or relatives so that your parent receives a call from somebody each day.
There are other steps you can take to help your parent avoid isolation and remain socially active:
- Enroll them in an adult day program for seniors. These programs have been shown to delay the need for assisted living and can help to ease your own burden as a family caregiver. These programs are available nationwide and include activities like gentle exercises, book clubs and other discussion groups, sing-alongs, and arts-and-crafts.
- Sign up for a senior companionship program in your area. These programs pair seniors with friendly (and carefully vetted) volunteers who share quality time, play games, socialize, and perform basic tasks.
- Set up a social routine that they can look forward to, like a weekly game night or dinner. Try to get other members of the family involved. This is a great way to keep your parent engaged while also keeping your loved ones together.
Most importantly, make sure your parent knows that you’re always just a phone call away. Encourage them to reach out to you whenever they’re feeling lonely or require some type of assistance.
Deciding Whether to Hire a Caregiver for Your Aging Parent
Caring for aging parents is easy when they’re independent: call them on the phone, pay them a visit, and occasionally help them with more complicated tasks like setting up a Facebook account. But what happens if your parent’s faculties are starting to slip? How do you determine when your parent needs live-in help or something more?
First, look out for the following red flags:
- Your parent forgets to take their medication
- Your parent is losing basic mobility (they may be falling down more often)
- Your parent is losing or gaining weight
- Your parent is struggling with regular tasks like preparing meals or cleaning the house
- Your parent is losing interest in the hobbies they once loved
Also watch out for possible signs of dementia or Alzheimer’s: significant memory lapses, disorientation, frequently getting lost, problems speaking, or problems concentrating.
If your parent is starting to struggle with the basics as bulleted above, they may require some in-home assistance, at least part-time. If your parent is exhibiting signs of dementia or is having significant difficulties with mobility, they may require round-the-clock care.
Choosing the Right Caregiver Services for Your Aging Parents
Once you determine that Mom or Dad needs some help, the more gut-wrenching decision can be whether to let them keep their independence at home or opt for a new, more supervised living situation.
- Independent Living at Home: Most seniors understandably prefer to remain in their own home. As long as your parent is of sound mind and can perform most daily functions independently, this can be a viable option. They’re going to need a strong support system, though. Make sure to check in regularly, take steps to prevent isolation, and watch out for any signs that they may require more assistance.
- Independent Living With an In-Home Caretaker: This can serve as a happy medium between independent living and assisted living. There are live-in caretakers and part-time caretakers, and this type of support may come from a trained healthcare provider or a member of the family. If your parent is struggling to live independently but they don’t want to abandon their current living situation, this may be the way to go.
- Independent Living Communities. This is another solution for active, relatively healthy seniors who struggle with loneliness or isolation. Communities include housing developments, apartment complexes, and mobile home parks. Seniors receive no medical care, but they’re surrounded by other aging residents and provided with basic services like transportation, laundry, and social activities.
- Assisted Living. For those seniors who are active but require help with basic activities like dressing, bathing, and receiving meals, assisted living may be a suitable solution. These facilities provide the same social surroundings and amenities as an independent living community, but with the added benefit of daily medical care and supervision.
- Nursing Homes. When assisted living isn’t enough, a nursing home may be required. These communities differ from assisted living in that they offer round-the-clock medical care and rehabilitation services to seniors with chronic conditions.
In order to choose the right type of care, you’ll need to make an honest determination of how much your parent is struggling. Your parent’s physician may also be a valuable source of insight.
Paying for Caregiver Services for Elderly Parents
Some families choose to care for an aging parent without help, often due to concerns over costs. While this can be a smart move for some families (particularly those with relatively independent parents), it can be exceedingly difficult when the parent is in failing health and struggles with basic tasks.
The average person isn’t equipped to meet the complex, evolving health needs of an aging adult without expert assistance. Thankfully, there are options available for financial assistance.
Most states extend Medicaid eligibility to qualifying seniors in need of in-home caregiver services or nursing home services. Assisted living can be a bit more difficult to find coverage for, but options exist for that as well. For example, Colorado offers an Elderly, Blind and Disabled Waiver (EBD) that supports assisted-living services for qualifying seniors. Florida covers care through its Statewide Managed Medicaid Care – Long Term Care program. In Texas, families can register through the STAR+PLUS program. Similar options exist nationwide, and some states will even provide you with financial assistance if you decide to serve as caregiver yourself.
To find your local Medicaid office or learn about your options and eligibility, contact your local aging services department. For example, California has the Department of Aging, and New York has the New York State Office for the Aging.
Essential Items to Have When Caring for Aging Parents
If you want to help your parent to maintain his or her independence, or if you plan to provide some level of care on their behalf, you’ll want to invest in the following essentials:
- A medical alert system. If your parent falls or otherwise requires immediate medical assistance, they need a quick and simple way to contact emergency services. Options include specially designed smart watches, bracelets, and necklaces with a convenient emergency button.
- Medications. If your parent requires daily medications for blood pressure management, high cholesterol, arthritis, or any chronic condition, take time to ensure that the prescriptions are always filled and that the medications are sorted into a convenient pill organizer. Make sure that your parent remembers to take all prescribed medications daily.
- Prescribed medical devices. If your parent requires other devices like inhalers, diabetes testing supplies, a scooter, or a blood pressure cuff, make sure that the supplies are always readily available and in working order.
- An automated external defibrillator (AED). Sudden cardiac arrest is the leading cause of death among older adults. It occurs when the heart suddenly stops beating unexpectedly due to an electrical malfunction. An AED can reverse the condition in many cases, restoring normal heart function before the organs suffer irreversible damage. Consider shopping for an affordable, simple-to-use model like the HeartSine Samaritan PAD 350P.
- Communication tools. To help mitigate the all-too-common problem of senior isolation, make sure your parent has the tools necessary to stay connected to their friends and family. For example, some manufacturers now sell smartphones and tablets specifically designed for senior citizens who may not be tech-savvy; these devices are commonly optimized with extra-large buttons, large-print text, hearing-aid compatibility, and easy calling and video-chat capabilities.
When you visit your aging loved one, always do a quick audit to ensure that they’re in good health and they have everything they need:
- See that they’re taking their medication
- See that they’re keeping up with all scheduled doctors’ appointments
- Check their fridge and pantry to ensure that they have ample food and good nutrition
- Ensure that their home is well-kept and the laundry is done; you may need to assist
Most importantly, just spend time with them. It’s the single most valuable thing you can do.
Caring for Aging Parents When They Resist Help
No matter how much or how little of a role you take in your parents’ care, your well-intended efforts may be met with some resistance. Don’t take it personally. Your parents are used to having things a certain way, and they’re used to being the care providers rather than the care receivers. It can be a difficult transition, but the AARP offers some tips on how to care for resistant parents in these situations:
- Be patient with your parent. If you need to have a difficult conversation that involves assisted living or another altered living situation, introduce the idea slowly and don’t expect them to be on board immediately. Give them time to consider the idea and adjust to it.
- Let your parent know that you’re on their side. You don’t want to be insistent or defensive. You want them to understand that you’re looking out for them and that you’re just concerned for their safety and well-being. You want them to flourish for as long as possible, and you want to ensure that their needs are met to the fullest.
- Don’t expect your parent to be exactly as they used to be. As people get older, they become more dependent, more vulnerable, and more aware of their mortality. This can cause them to engage in habits and behaviors that seem out of character. Be patient and compassionate, and know that you can mitigate potential conflicts simply by listening without judgment and guarding your expectations.
The most important thing is that your aging parent has the resources, the love, and the support system they need to thrive from day to day. It isn’t always easy, but there’s no shame in seeking out help. It’s up to you and your family—often with the help of a knowledgeable physician—to decide what is best.