It’s never easy to admit your parents have gotten older. The dance of time affects us all, though.
If your parents have reached an age where they can no longer do as much for themselves, you must learn to cope with this new reality.
In this article I’ll go over some of the most important issues that every family caregiver (especially if they are primary caregivers) should know as their parents get older.
What Do I Need To Know About Aging Parents?
Understanding the aging process of your parents is crucial, not just for their well-being but also for your peace of mind.
Beyond the stages of aging that we will be discussing later on, here are some additional insights:
- Emotional Well-being: As parents age, they might experience feelings of loneliness, especially if they’ve lost a partner or close friends. Engaging them in social activities, encouraging hobbies, or even adopting a pet can provide companionship.
- Safety Concerns: Elderly individuals are more prone to accidents at home. Consider home modifications like grab bars, non-slip mats, and improved lighting. Regularly check their living space for potential hazards.
- Financial Matters: Ensure that your parents’ financial affairs are in order. This includes understanding their insurance coverage, managing their bills, and discussing any necessary legal documentation like wills or power of attorney.
- Medical Advocacy: As health issues arise, your parents might need an advocate to navigate the healthcare system. This involves understanding their medical needs, accompanying them to doctor’s appointments, and ensuring they receive the right treatments.
- Communication: Keep the lines of communication open. Regularly check in on their needs, concerns, and feelings. It’s essential to listen actively and provide emotional support.
- Technology: Introduce them to technology that can make their lives easier. This includes smartphones for video calls, medical alert systems, or even apps designed for seniors.
- Community Resources: Familiarize yourself with community resources available for the elderly. This can range from senior centers offering activities to services that provide meal deliveries or transportation.
What Should You Expect As Your Parents Age?
As your parents grow older, they should go through five general stages. These are:
- Crisis Management
- End of life
Whether your parents are in stage two or even stage four, you have a lot of tough decisions to make.
- Will you care for them at home?
- What will it be like if you do?
- What if your parents refuse?
We’ll talk about all that and more in this article.
Stages Of The Aging Process – Physical Changes During The Aging Process
Let’s begin by elaborating more on the five stages of the aging process we outlined in the intro.
Each has distinct trademarks and some their own set of issues that can crop up.
For your entire life up to this point, your parents have been in the self-sufficiency stage. This means they’ve been in the mental and physical frame to care for themselves.
They have been able to dress themselves, feed themselves, and get around the house and the outside world without any assistance.
There has been no need to think of matters such as having them live with you or in a facility because they’re doing just fine.
Gradually, things begin to change. Your aging parents will enter the interdependence stage next.
Your caregiving tasks will increase. At this point, you must make a decision as to the amount of time that you have to give to the care of your aging parent.
They could begin asking you or another sibling for more help around the house, as they can’t do small things for themselves anymore.
It could be anything including vacuuming to meal prep or even some daily living tasks like showering.
Or maybe they need you to go with them to doctor visits because they are unsure of what the doctor is telling them or why they are being prescribed a certain medication.
Your parents may still live independently, but you’re over at their house helping out a lot more than you used to.
At some point, your elderly parents will go from interdependence – where they maintain some degree of independence – to complete dependence on you.
They will expect you to drive them around, take care of shopping, or help them with cooking. You may become their caregiver and help them with dressing, bathing, or even eating.
Read our article, Does Social Security Pay For Caregivers?
Once they enter this stage, you may decide to move your parents in with you or into a long-term care type of facility, as they won’t be able to maintain their home on their own.
It’s fallen on you to take care of things.
If your older parents have a disease like Alzheimer’s, dementia, Parkinson’s, or another condition that has seriously degraded their quality of life, you alone might not be able to provide all their care.
A memory care unit may be the best solution for their elder care needs at this point.
The same would be true if they have a severe injury.
At this point, they (and you) will be in crisis management mode and you will need professional medical assistance – such as a live-in nurse – to fill in the care gaps.
End Of Life
Whether through natural or unnatural means, there will come a time when your parents have reached the end of their lives.
At this point, your goal will be to make them as comfortable and happy as possible, so they can enjoy the rest of the time they have with you on this earth.
Mental Signs Of Aging
The mental stages of aging are a little less well-defined than the physical stages.
Some older adults go through the above five aging stages with little decline to their mental health.
Others may develop conditions that deprive them of mental sharpness, which makes dealing with aging parents that much more difficult.
It is estimated that 20% of people age 55 years or older experience some type of mental health concern. The most common conditions include anxiety, severe cognitive impairment, and mood disorders (such as depression or bipolar disorder). Mental health issues are often implicated as a factor in cases of suicide. Older men have the highest suicide rate of any age group. Men aged 85 years or older have a suicide rate of 45.23 per 100,000, compared to an overall rate of 11.01 per 100,000 for all ages.Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
One’s mental health can also be impacted by many life changes older people will experience, such as retiring and having a lower socioeconomic status, losing loved ones, and being unable to care for themselves anymore.
According to the World Health Organization, physical and mental health are closely intertwined.
For instance, WHO mentions that depression appears more often in heart disease patients than it does in those without heart disease.
Physical Changes During The Aging Process
Speaking of the heart, it’s just one of many parts of a senior’s body that will begin to change in old age. Other changes include:
- Weight: As their body slows down, a senior’s metabolism is not nearly as fast anymore. It’s important, then, for seniors to get exercise and eat nutritiously to manage their weight.
- Skin: With less fatty tissue, the skin has more fragility but less elasticity as the years add up. Skin tags appear more frequently, as do age spots, wrinkles, and even bruises. Seniors may also have drier skin.
- Teeth: Technically, seniors can keep their teeth throughout their lives, but they are more susceptible to infection and decay as people age. This is partly due to dry mouth, which can develop from having high cholesterol and/or high blood pressure. It is also a side effect of many medications. Coupling a dry mouth with failing eyesight and a loss of manual dexterity means more plaque and bacteria on the teeth and a higher risk of decay or an infected tooth.
- Ears: Hearing becomes difficult for seniors, especially at certain frequencies (like those that are higher). By seeing a doctor, the senior can manage their hearing as best they can, sometimes with assistance like hearing aids.
- Eyes: Besides a decrease in hearing, seniors should expect poorer vision as they get older. They could develop cataracts and other vision conditions. If not, they’ll likely still have glare and light sensitivity, as well as focusing troubles. Again, it’s important to keep up with eye care and not miss vision appointments.
- Brain: It’s normal for older adults to be a little forgetful, and this isn’t necessarily a symptom of dementia or Alzheimer’s, either. Multitasking may also prove too hard for seniors. By taking care of their physical health, a senior is in a good position to continue maintaining their mental health as well.
- Bladder: The elasticity of the bladder, like the skin, decreases with age. This means seniors have to use the bathroom more frequently than they once did. Also, pelvic floor and bladder muscles lose their strength, so the bladder may remain partially full even with all these frequent bathroom trips. This increases the chances of an accident due to loss of control.
- Digestive system: It’s common for seniors to have more constipation as their large intestine ages with them. By vacating the bowels when necessary, exercising, and eating healthy, fibrous foods, a senior can keep their digestive system healthy.
- Muscles and bones: A senior’s muscles have less flexibility, endurance, and strength compared to their younger years. Their bones lose density and size too, becoming more likely to fracture. It is common for seniors to shrink in height.
- Cardiovascular system: As the arteries and blood vessels become harder, the heart of a senior has to do double time. This doesn’t change heart rate much (as the heart muscles get used to the hardened vessels), even during physical activity.
Caring For Elderly Parents At Home: The Benefits
Knowing all this, if you decide to take care of your parents at home, what should you anticipate?
Well, there’s both good and bad to the situation, as with anything.
Let’s start with the benefits first:
- Your parents are home with you instead of in an assisted living facility or a nursing home, allowing you to oversee their care around the clock.
- You don’t have to pay for a nursing home or assisted living care, both of which can be expensive.
- You can oversee their medical care and personal hygiene issues confidently knowing that they are well taken care of.
- Your parents know you and love you, so they may be more likely to let you care for them versus allowing a stranger to do it.
- Your parents are in a familiar place, which may put them at ease and improve their mental health.
- You get to spend as much time with your parents as possible, which is important as they get older.
Caring For Elderly Parents: Stress
While caring for your older parents at home does have its perks, the experience can also be incredibly difficult at times.
- Depending on the level of care the senior parent needs, you may have to quit your job to provide more around-the-clock attention. If you do continue working, then you have to balance your responsibilities as a caretaker, worker, and even a spouse or parent. That gets exhausting fast.
- 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.
- You probably can’t do everything yourself, which means paying for professionals to come to the house. Alternately, you can do as much as you can, which will stress you both physically and mentally. Bottom line: you’re either spending your time or your money and very often both.
- If your parent suffers from any form of cognitive decline (dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, etc.) then you may be dealing with stressful situations on a daily basis. It could be anything from them refusing to shower to downright tantrums.
- If you’re the only adult child taking care of your elderly parents among a group of siblings, this can create resentment between you and your bothers and sisters for them not doing more to help out. Read about how to talk to your siblings in our article on the topic.
- Having to see your parents suffer through pain or live with Alzheimer’s day in and day out can be heartbreaking for any adult child.
- 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.
What To Do When Elderly Parents Refuse Help
What if your parent has entered the interdependence or even the dependency stage and their mental and/or physical health is in decline?
If you’ve done your research and have decided it’s feasible for you to care for your parents at home, you might begin making the arrangements to help them move in with you.
But then, you sit them down for a conversation and try to convince them that this living arrangement is best for them.
Much to your surprise and chagrin, your parents refuse to listen to you!
They tell you they’re fine on their own, even though that’s very much not the case. What do you do when elderly parents refuse help?
Start Preparing Them Early
If you know you have a particularly stubborn parent, then it’s best if you plant the seed as early as possible.
Years before they need the care, begin warming them up to the idea of you caring for them someday.
Your elderly parent may balk at first, but hopefully they will come around eventually.
I do want to tell you that social workers and geriatric care managers are well-trained and equipped to help families manage a reluctant senior parent. So, don’t hesitate to give one a call.
Always remember to seek caregiver assistance and include another individual in your parent’s health care when you start to feel burdened.
Let Your Parents Have A Say
One reason your senior parents may turn down your care proposition is because they fear having no control over their lives anymore.
If you allow them to have a part in all the decisions that are made during this time, their doubts and fears may be alleviated. Then they’ll be willing to go with your plan.
Be Willing To Let It Go
Sometimes, the most stubborn seniors refuse to budge when it comes to accepting help from someone else – even their adult child.
Although it’s not easy, you may have to accept that you’ve done what you can.
This doesn’t mean that you are giving up on your elderly parent, by any means. You’ll still be there for them, just not in the way you had originally envisioned.
That will have to be okay for now and you can always bring up the topic of helping them at a later time or if circumstances have changed.