Whether we like it or not and no matter how much we love our parents, we cannot stop them from growing old.
And as they age, they will be experiencing some deterioration in their overall health: physically, mentally and even emotionally.
The Unavoidable Decline
They may experience functional decline or sensory impairments such as inability to walk independently, loss of hearing, vision or eyesight and will be needing more help.
Some might even lose all their teeth or their ability to swallow food and drinks safely.
They may develop different illnesses like rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis or gout and may have all these aches and pains everywhere.
They might start to get anxious or worried of just about anything even if there is really nothing to worry about.
Some may start to have memory problems, such as forgetting to turn the lights or the stove off, asking the same question over and over again or worse they may even forget who you are.
And while it’s not something we openly talk about, old people have a bit of a reputation of being demanding. They want something to be done right there and then. They sometimes forget that we have our lives too.
OMG! I just realized… I have almost all of those elderly characteristics I have just mentioned above!!! Does that mean I am old???
In order to help you look after yourself while you are busy looking after your parents, I have listed some tips below that can be helpful in caring for elderly parents.
Tips on Caring for Elderly Parents
1) Consider your options.
If you are an only child, you have no choice but to make a decision by yourself in regards with the care of your aging parent. This is assuming that your parents are no longer capable to express their opinion.
But if you have siblings, it might be a bit easier as someone will be able to help you make those decisions. That is if you have a good relationship with your siblings.
You need to plan ahead. Do your research. Are you going to live with them at home and be their sole caregiver or make arrangements with your siblings to alternately look after them?
You may want to consider home care, adult daycare, independent living units, assisted living or residential aged care facilities.
2) You must determine their needs.
You have to evaluate your parents’ cognitive ability and overall health in order to know what type of care they need. You must make a list of what your parents really need and plan for them.
If you don’t do it, you may get overwhelmed by the amount of tasks and may probably give up too soon.
In this regard, maybe it’s a good idea to create a monthly, weekly, or even daily schedule to understand the extent of your parents’ needs and how to better provide them.
This way, you can keep yourself from doing too many tasks by allocating them on different days.
3) Know your capabilities.
I don’t want to generalize, but I believe that some parents don’t like to talk about their problems because they don’t want to upset their children. You know what I mean. They will not tell you until they are desperate.
You have created a list of tasks you have to carry out to help your parents. Now the question is, ‘Can you handle them?’.
Don’t lie to yourself or to your parents about what you can do.
Most people may not agree with me. They always say that, ‘They are my parents. I will do anything in my power to help them’.
But can you really? Measure your capabilities and decide whether you can do it alone or if you need some help.
4) Seek for help
Sometimes caring for an aging or sick parent can be too much for just one person. If you think that looking after your parent by yourself can put you in a tough spot, do not be ashamed to ask for help.
Maybe you can ask friends, relatives or neighbors to help out in anyway they can. You can ask them to do simple things like taking them to doctor’s appointments if you are unable to, or to do some shopping or cooking for them.
Occasional simple help like this would be a great help in order to avoid getting burnt out.
You can go to the My Aged Care website to see whether your parents will be entitled to get some help through subsidized home help programs such as the Commonwealth Home Support Programme (CHSP) and Home Care Package.
You can also go to their doctor and get a referral for a thorough assessment to see what kind of services they are entitled to have.
I know that you have been doing so much for your parents. You also need a break. Do not isolate yourself from everyone while taking care of your parents.
Go out with some friends and have a cup of coffee or go for a walk or a relaxation massage. You can ask a close relative or arrange for a respite care so someone can keep an eye on your parents while you are out having a break.
Take that time for yourself. Enjoy those hours; rest and recharge so you will have energy again to get back to your tasks.
6) Give your parents a sense of control.
It is so easy for us to automatically help our parents without even asking them if they need it. We want to look after them the way they looked after us when we were young.
We forget that people want to be in control of their lives no matter how old they are. Just like how you were when you were a toddler.
You should ask them what they want.
Let them do things that they are still able to do such as cooking, dusting or even just watering the plants as long as it doesn’t put them in great risk.
If their cognition is still intact, you need to discuss with them where they want to be cared for and what kind of care they want to be provided.
Let them make the decisions, and respect them, even the ones that you don’t agree with. After all, it’s their life, so it’s their choice.
This way, you don’t have to do everything for them; less workload for you and less argument with your parents.
7) Find emotional support.
Providing care to an old sick parent can be an exhausting task especially if you are doing it on your own for a long time.
You can join forums or groups so you can connect with other people who are in the same situation as you.
You can also join social media groups, have a group chat and discuss things that could hopefully lift your burden.
8) Look after yourself.
Yes, they are your parents. They have raised you, so you want to give back. But honestly, can you take care of them if you are not feeling well?
Do not ever forget to look after your own health. Because if you neglect yourself, the chances of you getting sick will be higher.
So don’t forget to add exercise, drinking plenty of water, eating healthy, nutritious food and getting enough sleep to your daily schedule.
9) Check your finances.
I know that taking care of parents will put a financial burden on your shoulder. You might have a family of your own now or you probably want to start one. So assess your situation.
Will you be able to financially support your parents in time of their need? If not, remember that the government has considered a variety of programs to help you with different costs.
In addition, it is possible to get paid for taking care of your parents. Check out the Carer Gateway website to find out what kind of financial assistance you can get.
10) Consider the last resort.
Of course, I have spared this tip. Well, this is not really a tip but a suggestion.
No father or mother wants to be a burden to their children. If you think that you are no longer able to take care of your parents (and I say this with a heavy heart), you can always rely on residential aged care facilities to take care of your parents.
Just make sure that you have done enough research about the place. It is important that the facility can meet your parent’s needs especially if you come from a particular cultural background.
If you need to go and visit several facilities to make sure that you find the right place for them, then do it. Do not entrust your parents to just anyone you see on the internet, in newspapers, or anywhere else.
Am I a Bad Child?
I was approached by a newly-admitted resident’s daughter once, she couldn’t control her emotions and started crying.
She said “I don’t know if I’m doing the right thing. I tried to look after my mum for how many years because she is the only one I’ve got left. But my doctor advised me to put her here (she meant the nursing home) or else I will be the one to be admitted in the hospital.”
I agree, it’s one of the toughest decisions to make. One that I’m glad I didn’t have to do as I have very good and supportive siblings who looked after my parents while I provide for them financially.
Once in their lifetime, our parents were young, energetic and so full of life. They were the ones looking after us; changing our diapers, giving us showers and teaching us how to read and write. It might feel strange that now, the role has been reversed.
From being their child, we have suddenly become their parent. They are now the ones relying on us to meet all their needs.
We promised them that we will take care of them when they get old.
But have we considered the hardships and consequences of such a choice? Maybe not.
It is such a challenging task.
Sometimes, we have to consider the fact that there will come a time that an aged care facility may be the best option for their safety and well-being.
As long as you know within yourself that you have done everything you can to help them, there is no need to feel guilty. At the end of the day, you can only do so much for them.
I’m sure they understand. And they appreciate the things we have done and continue to do for them.
You can still care for them by visiting them regularly. Some of our resident’s family members visit their mum or dad everyday and assist them with feeding or joining them in some activities like bingo or cooking class.
I would not recommend that though as you also need to set aside some time to look after yourself.
To all the dedicated caregivers out there, you have my utmost respect and admiration. God bless you all!