How do you involve yourself in the care and welfare of an aging parent?

Adults |

As we grow older, so do our parents and this can be difficult to come to terms with. There is a strange shift in the dynamic of the relationship, as once they were your caregiver, tending to your needs and raising you to be the person you are today, and then over time the roles begin to reverse, you are the one who feels the responsibility to take care of them. This can cause major anxiety and stress as we try to navigate this transition in roles. 

For some, knowing when to involve yourself  is quite clear. For instance, when a parent falls ill or there is an accident. Most likely in these situations, you will have a better idea of what is expected of you and what you need to do to help. However, when your parent’s health and wellbeing starts to decrease more gradually, it can be much more difficult to decipher when you should step in and help and how much you should be helping with. In addition, parents can be quite independent and stubborn and think they can “take care of themselves” without any help.

So, when and how do you step in as a caregiver?

Take cues from your parents. Get an idea on how they react to help from others in general. If they are more open to receiving help from you or others, you can perhaps be more direct on your concerns and have a more hands-on approach; however, don’t scare or hurt your parent’s feelings. There is a difference between being direct and being cruel/hurtful. If your parent gets defensive, won’t listen to you, or even gets angry you may have to be much more subtle in how you go forward.

Observe recurrent patterns or missing of obvious details that cause concern. If you are aware of dangerous and possibly life-threatening behaviours, it is time to insist on helping or seeking help more strongly.

Look out for the following signs where you may need to get involved:

  • Difficulty walking and moving around.
  • Poor personal hygiene
  • Regular forgetfulness and confusion
  • Forgets to take medications or takes them too often
  • Persistent irritability
  • Signs of depression
  • Rash financial decisions
  • Unpaid bills

Okay, you know it is time to get involved, but how?

Here are some ways to get involved in your parent’s care:

  • Let your parent know that you would like to be more involved in their everyday life.
  • Let your loved ones such as your partner, kids or close friends know that you may have to change some priorities to manage your parent’s care.
  • Let your employer know about possible changes in you personal life that may affect your time management at work.
  • Introduce yourselves to you parent’s friends and neighbours.
  • Start gathering information about your parent’s health condition(s) – e.g., medications, diagnoses, health practitioner contact information etc.
  • Have a key to their house, condo or apartment.
  • Keep records and notes of any appointments you go to, any symptoms you observe, transitions and changes in health conditions, and overall mood.
  • Research potential community resources and services that might be helpful.

When involving yourself in the care of an aging parent, it is important to be proactive and aware of your parent’s actions and behaviours but it is equally important to also bring empathy and compassion into your helper role, so that your parent(s) knows that you are here to love and support them unconditionally as they enter a new phase of their life.

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