What to do when aging parents need help
If your parents need help to stay safe and healthy, you might be unsure about how to handle the situation.
Figuring out their needs, understanding options, and making decisions can feel overwhelming.
Use these 7 steps to turn the vague problem of “my aging parents need help” into a practical, realistic plan to help mom or dad be as healthy and happy as possible.
Assess the need(s)
Caring for a parent can feel overwhelming with being unsure of exactly what needs to be done.
To solve that problem, take a step back to understand how much help they need with everyday life.
Think about 8 key areas:
- Family support
- Home safety
- Medical needs
- Cognitive health
- Personal hygiene
- Meal preparation
- Social interaction
How much support are they already getting in each category and how much help do they realistically need to stay safe and healthy?
Write down everything in a caregiving notebook (you can find some on amazon here) so you can keep track of their needs and figure out what services are needed.
For example, let’s say that your father is managing diabetes and heart disease, has no other family nearby, fairly isolated in a rural area, and he also hates to cook for himself.
Plus, you live across the country, so he’ll need help with medication management, transportation, and meals.
To provide the support he needs, you might hire a driver for doctor’s appointments and errands, set up grocery or meal deliveries, and hire an in-home caregiver to prepare meals and make sure he’s taking his medication.
Think about your own needs and abilities
Everyone is in a different place in their lives.
Before you assume that you can take care of all your parents’ needs by yourself, stop and think about your own situation and abilities.
- Does your own health allow you to physically care for someone?
- Do you live close enough to visit as often as needed?
- Would you want to live with them, either in their home or yours?
- Do you have the kind of relationship that allows you to spend a lot of time together without creating a lot of negative feelings on either side?
- Do you have the personality to provide the type of care they need?
- Are you willing to learn how to provide that care?
It’s not selfish or heartless if you find that you are not the best person to provide that care for them.
We all want what’s best to keep our parents safe and healthy.
By looking out for their health and safety, and arranging the care that they need, you’re still being a supportive and caring child.
It’s best to make an honest assessment of the situation early in the process, so that you don’t get yourself into a situation that is not sustainable.
If you take on too much and get burned out physically or emotionally, you may not be able to help your parent or yourself.
Include your parent(s) in the process
Nobody wants to lose control of their life; your parents are no different. Especially if they are already concerned about losing independence.
That’s why it’s so important to involve them as much as possible when you’re planning for their care.
This helps them see you more as a partner rather than someone who’s swooping in to make changes.
They may be resistant in the beginning, so be patient as it might take a few conversations.
Providing they’re not in immediate danger, try not to force changes too quickly. You might want to start with less intrusive approaches and increase the level of help they receive as you go.
Unless it’s an emergency, get them used to accepting help by focusing on 1 or 2 critical needs.
After that, slowly add on until they’re getting all the help they truly need.
Understand the financial situation
No matter what, caring for an older adult will cost money. It’s a good strategy to estimate future costs so you’ll be prepared.
Think about the medical care they’re likely to need, the cost of their potential living situation (like assisted living vs moving in with you), everyday costs; food, caregiving supplies, home safety modifications, etc.
Once you have an idea of their financial position, you’ll know if they’ll be able to afford the care they need or if they’ll need any financial help. Government programs, Medicaid, and other programs are available to help pay for the long term care, should they not have any coverage in place for it.
You may want to consult an elder law attorney or financial planner to help you with things like qualifying for Medicaid if need be.
Regardless, it’s best to plan ahead so they won’t get caught in an unforeseen money crunch.
Take care of home safety basics
Making your parent’s home safe is important as safety hazards add up over time, making it easier for older adults to trip, fall, or hurt themselves.
Preventing falls will go a long way in keeping your parent independent for as long as possible.
Simple fixes include:
- Making sure all floors and walkways are clear of clutter, cords, and rugs.
- Adding grab bars in the bathroom and stair railings throughout.
- Updating the lights so all rooms are bright and switches are easily accessible.
- Ensuring all appliances work well and are within easy reach.
- Minimizing the need to use stepstools or bending down too low.
For more suggestions, check out this handy room-by-room home fit guide.
Make sure communication is simple and accessible
The ability to easily call for help and keep in touch with family and friends is another thing that will make your parents feel safe.
On top of being a safety hazard, isolation and loneliness have a serious negative effect on a person’s overall health.
Make sure their phone is easy to use and easily accessible. Keeping pre-programmed numbers is easier than searching for a contact to call.
Explore available aging care options
Even after breaking down the steps, caring for your parents can be an overwhelming responsibility.
Fortunately, there are many aging care options and helpful resources you can rely on.
- Geriatricians (Geriatric doctors) – they specialize in caring for seniors and usually have more
- conditions that primarily affect older adults.
- In-home caregiving help – whether you hire privately or go through a home care agency, hired caregivers take care of seniors in their home.
- Assisted living communities – if your parent can’t live on their own, or needs 24/7 care, assisted living and other senior housing options might be the right choice.
Just remember that your priority is keeping them safe, healthy, and as comfortable as possible through any transitions and changes.