If your parents are beginning to need your help more and more then I’m sure you are starting to think about how exactly will you go about caring for your parents as they need you more and more. By beginning to prepare for what might come you will make both your lives (you and your parents) much easier.
7 Tips On Preparing To Care For Aging Parents
- Get your parents’ legal and financial documents in order
- Assess the needs your parent(s) currently have and what you anticipate they may need in the future
- Meet with other family members to make a plan
- Make the environment they live in safer
- Plan for backup help
- Talk to your employer about your new responsibilities
- If your parent(s) do not have cognitive deficits – then discuss your plans with them
Most of us think that as our parents age we will handle things as they come. But what I can tell you from my years as an Occupational Therapist specializing in the geriatric population and as someone who has gone through the caretaking process with my own parents is that the time to “handle things” is before they happen.
What I learned is that a lot of costly mistakes get made when you aren’t prepared. So, take some time to familiarize yourself with what needs to be done to prepare for what may come as your parents continue to age.
Let’s go over each of these tips that I mentioned above in more detail.
1. Legal And Financial Documents
One of the most important lessons I learned after my husband passed away was that everyone should have their legal and financial documents in order at all times.
My husband’s passing was unexpected and not only did I have to deal with the great emotional loss, I also had to contend with all the paperwork that comes afterwards.
Believe me, hunting for passwords and searching for documentation was just an added burden that had to be dealt with. There’s just no need for it.
Since then, I have been telling everyone, that if they truly love their spouses and family, they would not put them through that.
My mother heard my stories and she prepared everything for us (which we are so very grateful for). When she passed away – the process of selling her home and dispersing her assets was much, much easier for us.
I do recommend that you enlist the help of an elder law attorney – they are specialists at being advocates for the elderly and their families / loved ones.
Here is a checklist of the kinds of legal and financial issues you should prepare with your parents as they age.
- A current, updated will, estate plan, or a trust – I’m always surprised by how many people have not prepared a will or trust. This is by far one of the most important documents you can do for yourself and your loved ones.
- Power of attorney for financial assets – A Durable Power of Attorney is a document that gives one individual the legal right to appoint another person to act on their behalf in financial affairs.
- Living will – This advises others on what your wishes are in cases of a medical emergency. Also called a Health Care Proxy, Healthcare Power of Attorney, or Living Will, a Durable Medical Power Of Attorney is a type of advance directive that designates a person to make healthcare decisions for you if you are not able to do so.
- House deeds – My mother owned a home and my brother was on the deed of her home. It’s not absolutely necessary that you put someone else on your deed but it certainly made the process of selling her home after her passing very easy. Of course – your individual family dynamics will have to be taken into account when making a decision such as this.
- Financial accounts – My mother also had my brother on all her financial accounts (checking, saving, etc.) Again, closing these types of accounts after she passed away was very easy because of this. There are other ways these issues can be handled – I would recommend to discuss these with an elder law attorney.
For more information about the issue of legal documents – read our article title Legal Checklist For Aging Parents.
It is a difficult conversation to have with your parents, I understand. But having gone through my husband’s passing without most of these and then through my mother’s passing, I can honestly tell you that it’s much, much easier when these issues are taken care of beforehand.
2. Assessing Your Parents’ Current And Future Needs
More than likely, your parents will not be aware of or admit to problems that they may be having. If they are honest with you – then you are very fortunate. Otherwise – you will have to use your observational (and detective) skills to identify what issues they may be having trouble with.
You will want to look at the following areas:
- Mobility issues – are they having any problems walking or standing? Is their balance poor or fair? Have they fallen more than once?
- Cognitive issues – everyone forgets things now and then but if you notice that your parent(s) is forgetting many things, simple things then they may need more help than they know. Some common cognitive problems can show up as…
- forgetting to take medications or taking the wrong ones
- leaving the oven or stove on
- forgetting to lock the doors and windows at night
- using poor judgement such as falling for a scammer on the phone
- difficulty with problem solving / inductive reasoning
- difficulty with simple math (especially noticeable if they were always very good at math)
- word finding problems
- Problems with hygiene and dressing – your parents may need help if you notice that they are not showering/bathing or brushing their teeth regularly. If you notice they are wearing the same clothes for several days – or they are not brushing their hair. The problem may be that they are declining cognitively or they are having some physical problems to perform these tasks.
- Issues with meals and eating – check the refrigerator and pantry in your parents’ home. If you notice that they are bare or that the food there is past expiration or has gone bad – then it’s time to take over the task of purchasing and preparing meals for your aging parents.
What do you need to do to prepare for each of these situations?
Problems with mobility – what you need to do will depend on the problem(s) your parent is having. If they are in need of using a cane or a walker or a wheelchair then the environment they live in will need to be modified to accommodate for whatever tool they will be using.
Need to use a cane – If it’s a cane – I would recommend to remove any lace cut rubber mats that many homeowners have by their front and back doors. (The tip of the cane can easily get stuck in these).
Need to use a walker – walkers require a little coordination and space to be used safely. I would recommend to make sure that the living areas that your parent will be walking through with their walker be cleared of clutter. Also, measure the width of the walker to make sure that it can fit safely through a doorway, in the bathroom, in the kitchen, etc.
Need to use a wheelchair – for safe wheelchair access, doorways and hallways need to be at least 32 inches wide to accommodate a wheelchair. Also, check the width of the bathroom as well to make sure that once they are in the bathroom, that they can maneuver back out. You may also want to look into portable wheelchair ramps.
Cognitive decline – this is probably the most difficult issue to deal with simply because (in my experience) most seniors do not admit or are simply unaware of it. It’s usually up to the family members and/or caregivers to identify that there are some issues with memory, reasoning and judgement.
The best advice I can give you is…
- Talk to your parent about what you are noticing. You may have to have several conversations on the topic.
- In the meantime, do all you can to make sure that the house they are in is as safe as possible. This means setting up smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, stove and oven alarms, shower benches and possibly some monitoring devices. Installing grab bars and making the flooring as anti slip as possible. Also, a GPS device on and/or medical alert device as well on your parent wouldn’t be a bad idea (of course – all of these depend on the level of cognitive decline your parent is exhibiting). For more information on this, read our article on tips on how to make the home safer – click here.
- Ask your parents’ physician for a referral for a cognitive assessment. This is the best way to identify if there are any cognitive deficits and what they may be.
Problems with hygiene and dressing – any problems with self care / personal care tasks would normally be due to physical and/or cognitive issues. If there hasn’t been an ADL (Activities of Daily Living) Assessment by an Occupational Therapist, then I would recommend that you get that. Speak to your parents’ physician about a referral for that.
This ADL assessment will identify the exact problems your parent may be having (it could be a visual perceptual problem, or a memory problem, or some type of physical problem)
With this information in hand – you will then know if your parent needs some tools to help them with bathing and dressing or if they will need hands on help from someone.
The type of tools they could use could include shower chairs or benches, grab bars, long handled brushes to bath with, grabber tools to help with dressing, large grip eating utensils, non slip tableware – there’s many more. You can check out some of the ones available on Amazon – click here.
Problems with making meals and eating – my mother was an amazing cook. I loved her food and, luckily, she was able to prepare meals until just two days before she died. But your parent may not be like that.
If you notice that your parent is eating frozen meals or ready made food (essentially avoiding cooking) – talk to them and see if you can identify what the problem may be.
You may notice that the food in their pantry and/or refrigerator is out of date or spoiled and your parent isn’t concerned about this – then there may be some issues with their reasoning and judgement (a cognitive issue).
It could be that they are too tired or not interested or too afraid to cook. The solution could be using some adaptive equipment or some proper medication. A conversation with their physician would be warranted.
Again, an assessment by an Occupational Therapist can help you with this issue.
But whatever the cause is – if it’s evident that help is needed then a plan needs to be made (hopefully with your parents permission) to provide the type of help that may be needed. It could be having meals delivered through a service such as Blue Apron or Meals on Wheels. Or, having a family member or hiring someone to come in and do the grocery shopping and prepare meals for your elderly parent.
3. Meet With Other Family Members – Make A Plan
If there are other family members / caregivers involved – it’s important to gather them together (probably a few times) to work WITH your parents (if that’s possible) to come up with a plan on what could be done in case of any functional / cognitive decline.
For example: if your parent was unable to care for their home or themselves any longer for whatever reason – what’s the plan?
- Would they move in with a family member?
- Would someone move in with them?
- Would you have to hire a caretaker for the day or 24 hours?
- Would you need to modify the home (i.e. install a stairlift, modify the bathroom, etc.)?
- Is an assisted living facility appropriate?
- Is a nursing home something your parent totally opposes?
Knowing the answers to these types of questions beforehand will make life much easier not only for your aging parent(s) but for you and your family as well.
4. Making Their Environment Safer
The majority of seniors want to age in place. It makes sense, most everyone feels safer and comfortable in their own home and the thought of moving can be overwhelming.
More than 3 in 4 people — 77 percent — agree with the statement, “I’d really like to remain in my community for as long as possible,” according to AARP’s “Home and Community Preferences Survey,” conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago.AARP.org
If that is something that your parent can do – modifying the environment in their home is the best gift you can give them. The modifications would depend on what their needs would be – but they could include big and small things like…
- Installing stair treads on indoor and outdoor steps
- Decluttering their living spaces for fall prevention
- Adding a shower bench or chair in the shower stall or making major bathroom modifications
- Moving a master bedroom downstairs if they live in a 2 story house
- Putting in safety knobs on gas stoves or using automatic shut off devices
You can read more about home modifications in our article on How To Help Elderly Parents Stay In Their Home.
5. Plan For Backup Help
Asking for help is something that most caregivers and family members neglect to do. It’s understandable, most people don’t tend to ask for help in many situations.
But – I have gone through caretaking my parents and the loss of my husband and I have learned that if I had to go through all of that without the help of my family and friends – well – let’s just say it would have been much, much more difficult.
The truth is most people want to help – they just don’t know how.
So, begin asking your friends and family for a little help now and then. It could be helping to get some groceries or staying with your parent while you go out to the movies or helping you to make modifications in the home.
Whatever it is that you may need – don’t be shy. We are all in this together – as we should be.
6. Let Your Employer Know You Are Caring For Your Parent
Your schedule may end up being severely interrupted if you become a primary caregiver for your parent(s). This will most likely interfere with your job and your employer will notice. Instead of hoping that they won’t notice – let them in on what is happening.
Hopefully, you have an employer who can work with you and be flexible as your duties change and as your parent continues to age. But you won’t know that until you have the conversation with them.
If the scenario is that you are forced to leave your job to care for your parents, then you need to be prepared for that as well.
Your state may provide unemployment benefits if you quit to care for your parent. You can check with your human resources department for that information.
You can also research that information for your specific state by clicking here.
7. Talking With Your Parents
I would strongly recommend that you and your siblings (if there are any), spend some time talking to your parents about what their wishes are and what your concerns are.
Of course, I understand that these conversations depend on your relationship with your parents and their cognitive status. For some families these types of conversations will go much smoother than others.
My own mother was extremely stubborn and refused to engage in any discussion concerning any issues related to her home and her health. It was actually very difficult but my siblings and I did our best to stay calm and rational. And honestly, some things (like her shower bench and grocery shopping) we just went ahead and did what needed to be done.
Yes, she wasn’t happy and she made sure we knew that. But, she ended up thanking us for the help.
Sometimes a 3rd party (like a physician or counselor) can help. In my case, the hospice nurses were a big help. They would reinforce what we were telling our mother, but because the information came from a “professional” – my mother was more inclined to listen to them than to us.
My point is – if your parents have the cognitive capacity to comprehend what is happening – then give them the respect they deserve and include them in the decisions that involve their life and well being.
I do hope that the information in this article has been helpful. I tried to go through every aspect I could think of and that I’ve been through to help you as you move forward to prepare to help your aging parents.
Of course, if you have any questions – please ask us. Both Robin and I will do our best to answer them and help you.