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Taking Care Of An Elderly Parent In Your Home

If your elderly parents are moving in (or have moved in) with you and your family – there will undoubtedly be some changes that will be made and it may be difficult for everyone involved.  But rest assured, there are some thing that you can do to make this difficult transition easier.

So, how do you take care of an elderly parent in your home? –

  1. Modifying the home environment to meet the current physical and/or cognitive status of your senior loved one
  2. Establishing sets of rules that everyone can work with
  3. Allow the time and space needed for fun activities both your elderly parents (and you) can participate in
  4. Creating a space for everyone for that much needed alone time
  5. Set up a list of back up caregivers for when you and your family need to take a break away

These 5 main points should help you and your older parents to adjust a bit easier to the new living situation you both find yourselves in.

Okay, so let’s go over a summary of each of these 4 points that I am making and then go into some more detail later on in this article.

Modifying The Home Environment – What I mean by this is making the physical changes in your home to accommodate your parents’ physical and/or cognitive limitations.  This could include things like…

  • Ramps if your parents use a wheelchair
  • Widening doorways to accommodate mobility devices such as wheelchairs and scooters
  • Installing a walk in tub or restructuring the shower to make it easier to walk in to
  • Adding stair treads to your staircase or installing a stair lift
  • Removing area rugs, making the floor less slippery, etc.
  • Adding / Installing monitoring type of devices (if needed) such as the Smart Caregiver® Floor Mat!  It’s a flat mat that can be placed on the floor, by the bed.  It plugs into an outlet and when stepped on, it can turn on the light in the room AND notify you (the caregiver) that your elderly loved one has gotten up.  Of course, if they fall onto the mat – it will notify you as well.

I would recommend to get an Occupational Therapist to come in and give you a full home assessment to give you a guideline and recommendations on what would be needed in your home to make it safer and easier for your parents.

Establishing Sets Of Rules – All families (and most all people) function better when there are sets of rules to follow.  Knowing your role and duties within your own family not only help you (and your parents) to feel like a contributing partner to the group – but it also leads to a more fulfilling lifestyle.

Include Time For Fun – If your parents are engaged in specific hobbies, I would encourage you to do your best to accommodate for those activities in your home.  I would also recommend to include some fun family activities weekly or so and include your elderly parents in the event. 

A Space For Everyone – Most everyone needs some time alone – to reflect and to rest.  If you can create that space for every person in the family, it should help to decrease stress and tension which can happen wherever there are groups of people involved.

All Caregivers Need Help So Ask For It – The one thing that I do want to stress in this article is the importance of using your community to help you.  What I mean is that you should not go into this alone.  This is the time to use your family, your friends, your church, etc.   I have personally been through major trauma in my life and what I learned is that people DO want to help you – they just don’t know how.  So, don’t be shy – ask for help.

Search for local caregiver support groups in your area – there usually are quite a few.  One resource you can check is Powerful Tools for Caregivers – they are not in every state but they do offer classes that can help you especially if you are at the beginning stages of caregiving.

Knowing that you will need to address each of these 5 major areas and preparing for them will help you and your senior parents to make caring for them in your own home much easier, for everyone.

How Do You Take Care Of Aging Parents?

In addition to what I mentioned above – there are other factors that I want to mention when it comes to helping you to take care of your aging parents.

These other issues involved in caring for aging parents in your home have to do with…

  • Medical issues – Certainly not all, but most elderly adults require medical attention.  It could be as mild as taking one or two medications a day or as severe as requiring professional nursing care daily. 
  • Financial issues – So many more adults are living longer than they anticipated and as a result – many have not saved the amount of monies they need to continue living and paying for living expenses, medical expenses, etc.
  • Physical needs – Many elderly suffer from some form of physical decline whether it’s difficulty walking, poor upper body strength, poor flexibility, poor vision, etc.
  • Cognitive limitations – About 1 out of every 9 adults over 65 years of age has some form of cognitive decline.  It could be as mild as simply forgetting a name or an event or as severe as being unable to form sentences.

Taking care of elderly parents requires more patience than you ever thought you had – at least that’s how I felt when I was caring for my elderly mother.  It was an hourly test that I didn’t always pass!

I want to address the 4 points that I mentioned earlier in a bit more detail to help you if you are in the position of having to care for your aging parents.

Medical Issues

When it comes to helping your parents with medical issues – there are some tools that you can use to help you.

  • Scheduling – use ONE thing to schedule medications, doctor’s appointments, etc.  What I mean is use ONE calendar, or ONE app on your phone, etc.  By keeping everything in one place – you and your elderly parent will find it easier to remember and stick to the schedule.  I personally use Google Calendar and I have that calendar on my phone as well as on my Amazon Echo Show.  I get beeped and buzzed by my phone and my Echo Show when an event on my calendar is coming up. 
  • Medication Reminders – if your parent is cognitively aware and able to be responsible to take their own medications – there are some tools that they can use to help them to remember.  After all, we can all use a little help now and then, right?  I can recommend something as simple as a weekly pill organizer (I use a similar one like this myself for my morning vitamins).  I also use my Alexa device to remind me if I have to take an extra supplement or medication during the day. 
  • Medication Services – these days it seems you can get just about anything ranging from food to cars delivered to your home.  Well, medication delivery services are one of those that can greatly help to save you time.  PillPack is an Amazon service that takes away the need for having to go to the pharmacy to pick up or refill a prescription.  You can’t beat the price – the service and shipping are both free. You only pay the regular insurance copay, just like you if you went to the pharmacy. 
  • Ridesharing Services – there may be times when you can’t take the time or don’t have the vehicle to take your elderly parent(s) to the doctor.  This is when a ridesharing service like Uber or Lyft can help.  Both Uber and Lyft provide wheelchair service (although they are only in limited cities at the moment).  I personally know some friends who have used a ridesharing service to get their parent TO the doctor where they were met by a family member to be with them throughout the doctor’s appointment.

The point here is that there are multiple tools and methods that you can use to help you and your senior parent(s) make life just a little bit easier and safer.

Financial Issues

I won’t even count the number of friends and family that I have that are dealing with difficult financial issues with their elderly loved ones.  The main reasons are that their elders didn’t expect to live as long as they have and they didn’t expect that their expenses would be as high as they currently are.

In other words – they spent way more than they saved and now they are in a pickle!  The unfortunate thing is that this now involves their adult children who are caring for them. 

So, how can you care for aging parents when they have run out of funds?  Well, there are some things you can do.

I actually wrote an article on that topic not too long ago titled What To Do With Aging Parents Who Have No Money? – you can find some useful information there but I’ll outline some tips here on what you can do if you find yourself in this situation.

  • Have a serious sit down conversation with your parents (if they are able to do that with you).  I would recommend to do this with other family members as well as a financial planner to help answer any questions and also provide possible solutions to your particular situation.
  • Make sure to have all the information about what your parents owe, what they have and more importantly, what they can sell.  Make no bones about it – some things will have to be sold in order to raise cash.
  • Make a list of what income is being received (pensions, investments, social security, etc.)
  • This is when family and siblings should all come together to help out with the situation.  This is not something that is solely on your shoulders (so don’t be a martyr).
  • Look into any programs in your state and community that you may be able to take advantage of. 

Now, please don’t take this the wrong way but I have personally seen many great advantages to using Hospice as a program that can greatly benefit older adults. 

I know what you are probably saying to yourself, “My parents aren’t THAT sick that they need hospice!”. 

All I can tell you is that my mother cleaned her own home, including vacuuming, cooked all her meals, took care of herself until 2 days before she died and she was on Hospice for several months.  Yes, she had a terminal illness but she didn’t appear ill or weak.  She needed oxygen, yes but that didn’t stop her.

Hospice cost us nothing and honestly when my social worker friend suggested it to us we responded very much like you probably responded.  My friend simply said “It won’t hurt to get her evaluated – costs you nothing but a little time.”  We were surprised to find out that my mother qualified and we truly are in great debt to all the wonderful work they did for us and my mother.

Physical Needs

Everyone will have different physical needs.  Some seniors need help with walking, others need help getting in and out of bed, others have trouble standing for more than 5 minutes, etc.  There are a large variety of physical problems that can occur as our bodies grow older and each one of these could require a different set of tools or help. 

In this article I’ll go over some of the most common issues but of course, if you have a specific question concerning your elderly parent(s) and their physical needs – go ahead and click here to ask us your question – we’ll do our best to help.

Falling – a very common problem (and fear) that elderly have is that of falling.  Whether it’s falling out of bed, or falling in the shower or anywhere else – it’s an issue that needs to be addressed BEFORE an injury occurs due to a fall.  We’ve written extensively on this topic so feel free to look through our archive of articles related to elderly falling for help.

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 walkerwalkers 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.

Using a bathtub – some seniors insist on using a bathtub versus a shower.  This is fine as long as they can get in and out of the bathtub safely.  If this is the case with your elderly parent(s) then I do strongly recommend to install safety grab bars. 

Once you decide which type of grab bar (horizontal or vertical) works best for your family, you need to figure out where to place the grab bar in the bathtub or shower area.

You should position the grab bars in places where it will be comfortable for the user.  This means it could be installed vertically, horizontally or at an angle.

I recommend three grab bars surrounding the bathtub area:

  • One at the entrance to the bathtub
  • One along the side wall of the bathtub
  • One by the faucet handle

Read our article about the different types of grab bars and where to place them in a bathroom (click here).

Another option (albeit an expensive one) for “bathtubers” is the installation and use of a walk in tub.  We wrote an article on the topic of Walk In Tubs (read it here) and it will help you to make the decision if it’s worth it and what type you could get for your particular situation.

Using the shower – for those older adults who are fine using a shower there are still some safety features that should be looked at.  As an Occupational Therapist I treated many seniors who had injuries due to a fall in the shower so please remember, it only takes 1 second for an injury to occur!

I would recommend the installation of grab bars again and you can see where and what type to place in the shower in the article mentioned above on the different types of grab bars. 

I would also strongly recommend the use of a shower chair and/or shower bench.  There are many different varieties you can choose from depending on the physical needs of your senior parent.

There are several other products that you can use to make the shower environment safer as well and you can read about them in our article on Shower Safety.  But to give you a short summary here, these products are…

  • non slip floor products
  • mounted pole grab bars
  • strong suction cup hooks
  • wall mounted shampoo and soap dispensers
  • hand held shower heads

Working in the kitchen – there are many things that you can do in the kitchen in order to make it easier and safer not only for your senior parents but you for as well.  Everything from decluttering the spaces to re-arranging the cabinets to adding more light in the room, etc.  You can read about the entire list of the recommendations I have on making the kitchen safer here.

One thing I can add and give you information on here is on the issue of kitchen chairs.  A friend’s father recently fell off his kitchen chair (which had casters) and fractured his hip.  He had not had any physical problems before this incident but is now dealing with the possibility of having to use a cane or walker for the rest of his life.

So yes, you guessed it – I strongly recommend to remove any chairs with casters – chairs that move are NOT good for older adults.

I also recommend that if your elderly parent enjoys cooking but has problems standing for too long – then a kitchen stool may be very useful.  Something that has a back and arm rests would work best – something like the Drive Medical Kitchen Stool should work very well.

You can see a list of other chairs that may be suitable for your situation by clicking here.

Another recommendation that I can make for both caregivers and seniors who enjoy cooking is to enroll in a program such as Blue Apron.  Getting the fresh ingredients delivered directly to your home to prepare meals for yourself and the family is very convenient and a great timesaver.

Caregiver(s) Needs

Let’s not forget that the caregivers in the home also need to be taken care of.  This means a few things…

1. Establishing rules at the beginning of this new arrangement.

Now, it’s true – some rules are meant to be broken and I do believe that whatever rules you set up at the beginning, you may end up breaking them and re-working them, which is fine.  Don’t expect it all to work out from the very start.  Be flexible, work with each other to find the best set of rules that can work for everyone.

2. Delegating household chores.

Everyone needs to pitch in to help out with the work needed to maintain the household.  Whatever your parents can do, give them the job of doing it.  It could be as simple as helping you to prepare a meal as they sit at the kitchen table.  Folding laundry as they sit in the recliner watching TV, organizing those photos you’ve had in those shoe boxes for the last decade, etc. 

3. Everyone needs a space and time of their own.

Getting away from responsibilities and each other is good for everyone.  Spending 2 or 3 afternoons a week at the park or shopping or at the pet shelter while a friend or family member or volunteer visits with your elderly parents is something that is absolutely needed for most every caregiver.

Having your own room or outdoor porch or somewhere to get away when tensions rise and you need to step away before you say or do something you’ll regret – is extremely important for everyone.

Can I Get Paid For For Taking Care Of My Elderly Mother?

You may get paid to care for your senior parents through a service like Medicaid, but it’s not guaranteed. So, if you quit your job to be a caretaker, that means you have to find a way to make money to keep a roof over your own head and your parents’, while still helping them out.

Are You Legally Responsible For Your Elderly Parents?

In some US states and some countries, there are Filial Responsibility Laws. If you live in Puerto Rico or any of the states listed below, you may be responsible for your parents’ care. Although these laws are not often enforced – they still are the law so legally – you could be made to pay.

There are currently 28 states plus Puerto Rico that have filial responsibility laws.

  • Alaska
  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Georgia
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Massachusetts
  • Mississippi
  • Montana
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Puerto Rico
  • Rhode Island
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Utah
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • West Virginia

Other countries such as Germany, France, Taiwan and Singapore have their own versions of a Filial Responsibility Law as well.

How Do You Deal With Difficult Elderly Parents?

This is a big problem for many older children who care for their aging parents in their home – so please know that you are not alone.

Chances are that your parents were difficult before they grew older and this of course may have affected your relationship with them.  If that is the case (it certainly was in mine) then it will be difficult for you to care for them in your own home.  Both you and your parents will have to come to some series of compromises in order to get through this time in your lives.

Using a counselor may help you at this point in time.

What I can advise you on, based on my experience in working with so many families and their difficult parents and also in dealing with my own difficult mother is the following:

  1. Realize that your parents are not intentionally trying to hurt YOU.  Don’t take their anger and stubborness as a personal assault.  They are hurting, they are angry and they don’t know how else to express it.  Very much like a toddler who is unable to express their emotions so instead they throw tantrums and have inappropriate outbursts.
  2. Try to see why they are the way they are.  What experiences, disappointments, regrets in their lives are they dealing with?
  3. Treat them as the adults that they are which means that they are responsible for their own actions and the consequences of those actions. 

When I was caring for my mother I would try to help by making a meal or cleaning the dishes or the bathroom.  Her responses were most often…

“You don’t know how to clean.”

“You can’t cook.”

“Don’t bother – I’ll do it – I can do it better.”

Needless to say, these were not very nice things to say.  But my response was always something like…

“Well, maybe I can’t do this as well as you would like it done but I am happy with all the other great things that I can do.”

This always stopped my mother’s negative comments.  Basically, I responded with a statement that showed her I really didn’t care what she thought and that I was stronger than her because I was happy with my own accomplishments.

I do hope that your situation is different and that your parent is grateful for what you are doing for them and with them as you begin this great journey of caring for your elderly parent or parents in your home.

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