Caring for Elderly Parents

Victoria Burke by Victoria Burke | Licensed since 2011
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This article was updated on: 09/09/2018

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When a parent reaches the point where living alone is no longer a safe option, one out of a group of siblings might step up to become the caregiver for aging parents. If that’s your role in the family, you may have questions and concerns about what to expect when you’re caring for elderly parents, especially if you’ve reached this point after a health crisis or other unexpected event.

Whether you’re bringing Mom or Dad home to live with you, or navigating the maze of long-term elder-care arrangements for your aging parents, you’ll find some useful tips and recommendations below to help you make decisions about caring for elderly parents.

I’m a new caregiver; where do I start?

You may want to start with your parent’s health and medical basics, suggests the National Institute on Aging; you’ll need this information for many different decisions throughout the process of caring for aging parents.

  • Help your parents organize their paperwork. Your Mom and Dad might be somewhat resistant at first, but explain that you’re going to protect their privacy and that it’s important to have certain information (described below) ready in case of an emergency.
  • Start a medical file for your parent. Write down her social security number and make copies of all health insurance cards. Collect names and numbers of all doctors, specialists, and pharmacists she sees, along with a list of all her medications and dosing instructions. Get copies of the results of recent tests she’s had and write down a complete medical history with her major illnesses, operations, and hospitalizations. You can find information from the National Institutes of Health about personal health records here.
  • Find out everything you can about your parent’s condition and care needs, such as what type of medical care and therapies are needed, what to expect in terms of progression of symptoms, and what you, as a caregiver, need to know about caring for your ill or elderly parents.
  • Get the appropriate legal documents and permissions you need to discuss your parents’ health, make health-care decisions, and handle financial matters for your parents. These may include a living will or durable power of attorney. It may come in handy later if you get these documents in place before you need them.

How do I decide if my parent should move in with me?

This is perhaps your most significant decision when it comes to caring for elderly parents and it requires careful consideration. Here are some questions that caring.com suggests to help you decide the best caregiver arrangement for your aging parents:

  • How much—and what type of—care will your elderly parents need? How much care and supervision can you realistically give? If your parent is still relatively healthy and somewhat independent, his needs are much different than if he’s just been hospitalized or diagnosed with a chronic or progressive illness. Be sure his needs and your abilities are compatible.
  • How well do you and your aging parents get along? Are the other members of your family on board with the decision? Many families have conflicts and disagreements, but only you know if the relationship can withstand the constant strains of living together. Ideally, your family members can agree on the living arrangements.
  • Is your home physically accommodating for the needs of elderly parents? Can you afford to make it that way? Think about steps, bathrooms, privacy, and extra space. If your parent is in a wheelchair or walker, make sure your home can accommodate these aids.

Where can I find caregiver help and resources?

You might want to start by calling a family meeting and honestly presenting your parent’s situation and resources, your needs and abilities, and where you need help. Get input from your family members and ask each to commit to assisting you in a specific way as the primary caregiver for your elderly parents, suggests HelpGuide.org. Other steps you can take:

  • Learn everything you can about elder care services in your community. Your local hospital or area association on aging should be able to help you. Find out about respite care and free or low-cost elder services you can take advantage of to lower your caregiver burden.
  • Find a support group, suggests caring.com. This doesn’t have to be an organized membership group, although they’re often helpful. Reach out to close friends, neighbors, extended family, or members of your church congregation. The goal isn’t necessarily to get concrete help—sometimes, it’s extremely helpful just to talk to others who have walked the same path and can share personal stories and experiences to encourage you.
  • Consider getting some outside help in helping you care for elderly parents. Eldercare.gov’s Eldercare Locator (1-800-677-1116) can help you find assistance in your community.

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