Bringing up a parent's aging expectations and setting goals together is essential, even if initial discussions may be uncomfortable. Often, an exploration into a parent's future thoughts about health, finances, and residential plans can make the difference between reacting to a crisis or following an established plan that brings both the parent and their children peace of mind. The sooner an identified caregiver begins a dialogue, the better the outcome for all involved.
It is common for an older parent to try and shield loved ones from some of their harsh realities - whether financial or health-related - because they are reluctant to accept help, embarrassed by their finances and don't want to be a burden, or are hiding some critical health information. Even in the best of health circumstances, an older parent's ability to remain independent and manage their life can be challenging. Family caregivers are essential to the experience of aging in America, and while individual care needs vary, there are some general topics to address when helping an aging parent.
Safety issues are paramount. If there are assets and retirement plans in place, do not allow an aging parent to become financially vulnerable. In the most recent report released by the Department of Justice (DOJ), more than 2 million elderly Americans were defrauded out of more than $750 million in one year. Get educated and learn systems that can protect parental assets. Physical safety must also be addressed to prevent accidental falls in the home. Technology can be adapted into the home to have environment lighting controls and other comforts that can keep a parent safer. Driving is also a topic that needs to be discussed. At what point is it best to remove a parent from behind the wheel to avoid unintended accidents that can be costly both financially and health-wise?
Activities of Daily Living (ADLs) and Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADLs) are the basic foundation of day to day functioning. IADLs include chores such as managing finances, transportation, home maintenance, shopping, and meal preparation. ADLs include eating, bathing, getting dressed, toileting, transferring and continence. The level of need in the described activities generally determines the sorts of care and housing arrangements a parent, caregiver, and family must consider.
Health and medical issues are pervasive as a parent ages. Many elder parents suffer from chronic conditions requiring medications, management, and monitoring. A caregiver may notice new health concerns that will need attention and routine visits to physicians to diagnose any new medical conditions. Dementia and other serious chronic illnesses can cause a parent to lose their ability to manage their health decisions or oversee their medical care. A medical power of attorney becomes necessary in the event a parent is no longer able to make sound decisions. All of these legal and financial issues that address health directives must be documented with the necessary legal paperwork. Legal documents such as a will, trust, and power of attorney are also essential to have in place. When the time comes, this documentation affords an agent under power of attorney, or a medical power of attorney, the right to act on a parent's behalf without the time-consuming need to go to court. Very often, a caregiver is assigned these legal designations. Planning for a parent's inevitable future decline, emergencies, and end of life care goes a long way to helping reduce stress, hassles, and expense.
Housing issues are at the forefront of successful aging. Is a parent able to age in place, particularly with the aid of technologies that simplify their day-to-day living? If they are not, what sort of environment is best suited to their current needs? Do they need to move in with a family member or might they require assisted living? If so, is that financially viable? How does housing address the parent's quality of life? Beyond the basic needs, a caregiver and family should want a parent to thrive, not just survive. It is essential to learn what matters most to the parent and what they would be willing to compromise on if the need arises. A parent's desire for social connections, autonomy, dignity, and purpose must be considered to ensure a positive quality of life.
Finally, the management of family dynamics and relationships often brings many challenges and painful emotions to process. A caregiver deals with relationship stresses that can include physical exhaustion, financial depletion, and emotional burnout. A caregiver is only as useful to a parent as they are to themselves. While setting boundaries can be difficult, establishing frameworks that designate acceptable norms are healthy for all involved. A caregiver who puts their well being in jeopardy will also affect their ability to care for a parent. Some strategies for wellness in a caregiver's life include: joining a support group, asking family members for help, learning to say no when needs outside established boundaries arise, and allotting time for themselves.
There is much to consider. Planning can become complicated as human emotions and relationships are involved when setting out caregiving expectations and parent aging plans. We help families navigate the aging process and plan for how to find and access appropriate care.
If you have any questions or need guidance in your planning or planning for a loved one, do not hesitate to contact our Winthrop, Maine office by calling us at (207) 377-6966.