Written By: Molly Kavanaugh
You may have gotten a confusing phone call from your father, or learned from a neighbor that he fell while gardening. Your mother loves to cook and eat, but during your weekly visit the refrigerator is nearly empty and she doesn’t seem to care.
Your loved one may need help, but what kind of caring services are available and how do you start?
Take comfort in knowing that you are not alone. One in every seven Americans is age 65 or older, and with an average life expectancy of about 20 years the likelihood of older adults needing supportive services at some point in their lives is growing.
“The need for caregiving for older adults by formal, professional caregivers or by family members—and the need for long-term care services and supports—will increase sharply during the next several decades, given the effects of chronic diseases on an aging population,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s most recent report on aging and health.
Starting the Conversation
Talking to your parent about making a lifestyle change can be a difficult subject, which is why children are encouraged to start the conversation before a crisis occurs, according to a “helpful hints” guide published by the MetLife Mature Market Institute.
“Agree to disagree,” the institute advises: “Your heart may tell you that you are right, and that you know what needs to be done, but you and your parents may disagree with each other. Do not try and bully your way through. Their wishes should prevail unless their health or safety is in question.”
You might also want to enlist support or get input from family members or close friends, or a doctor, pastor and other trusted individual.
Take heart—even the “experts” can find this challenging. David Solie, geriatric psychologist and author of “How to Say It to Seniors: Closing the Communication Gap With Our Elders” had a very independent mother who fired every caregiver David hired to help her recover from a broken wrist. Eventually mother and son were able to come to an agreement that brought them closer together.
Family Caregiving is Not for Everyone
Caregiving can be an emotional roller coaster, according to the Family Caregiving Alliance. “On the one hand, caring for your family member demonstrates love and commitment and can be a very rewarding personal experience. On the other hand, exhaustion, worry, inadequate resources and continuous care demands are enormously stressful,” the alliance advises, adding that baby boomer caregivers who often face a busy schedule at home and work are at an increased risk of depression and chronic illness.
Before agreeing to take on this demanding role, talk to family members and close friends familiar with your strengths and weaknesses. Take time to do some soul-searching. How will this impact your daily life at home and work? Your finances? Your health – mental and physical?
If you do decide to become your parent’s caregiver, don’t try to do it all. “You’ll need help from friends, siblings, and other family members, as well as health professionals. If you don’t get the support you need, you'll quickly burn out—which will compromise your ability to provide care,” according to HelpGuide.org.
Home Care Agency Might Be the Answer
Today there are hundreds of home care agencies throughout the country that offer medical care, such as physical therapy and nursing assistance, and personal care, such as cooking and running errands. Most agencies have a minimum hours requirement for each visit.
As with any important purchase, it is always a good idea to talk with family, friends, neighbors, your physician and local area agency on aging to learn more about the home care agencies in your community, according to the U.S. Administration on Aging, which offers a list of helpful questions to find quality care.
If your parent really wants to stay in his or her home, this kind of supportive care might be the answer. But your parent’s needs might be too great for what might be a patchwork plan of care with various caregivers.
Assisted Living is Another Option
A relatively new concept 25 years ago, today assisted living is the most preferred and fastest growing long-term care option for seniors, according to the Assisted Living Federation of America.
Assisted Living communities offer housing, supportive services (such as meals) and medical services (such as medicine management). But communities vary greatly in quality and services, and there is often a waiting list. The federation, which offers a guide for choosing a community, advises that you tour as many as possible and do so before the need arises.
Those initial conversations you had with your parent are just the beginning. Family caregiving or a home care agency might work for a few months or a couple of years, but assisted living could be a better arrangement later. As much as possible, keep the conversation current between your parent and other family members, and revise and update as needed.
Written By: Molly Kavanaugh