At times rewarding and other times challenging, caring for elderly parents can place a financial, physical and emotional burden on you and your family. Sometimes parents have physical or mental disabilities, or suffer medical and psychological problems, further complicating the situation. You want to provide loving support, but you also need to carve out time and space for yourself. Fortunately, many authors and agencies have created strategies that work well during elder care.
Talking with your elder parent keeps your relationship lively and more open. It can also stimulate your parent, supporting mental agility. However, communicating transcends these simple objectives. You need to feel you can talk about aspects of the living situation that concern you, be it health and safety issues, or financial worries. Ask about key legal issues such as estate planning and power of attorney. Discuss long-term care options. Ask your parent about funeral plans. Include family and close friends in visits, and hold regular discussions with key family members about your concerns.
Jacqueline Marcell, the author of “Elder Rage — or Take My Father… Please!” has several guidelines for people caring for elderly parents who may require behavior modification. If your parent places excessive demands for your attention, you need to set limits. Use positive reinforcement when your parent shows respect of you and your time. If elder parents are always negative, attempt to redirect their attention. Do not respond to verbal abuse, and walk away if necessary. If they make unreasonable requests, particularly those beyond their abilities, change the subject rather than telling them they cannot do something. Do not get overly emotional when dealing with a difficult parent. Keep your tone positive.
No one should have to do the difficult work of caring for an elder parent alone. Avoid being a martyr and ask for help. Family members, friends and neighbors may be able to visit or provide some diversion for your parent. Check with community agencies, senior centers, recreation centers and public libraries for special programs and classes targeting senior citizens. Ask your parent’s doctor about any discussion groups addressing health concerns. If you have deeper worries, consider a therapist or social worker specializing in senior care issues. The U.S. Administration on Aging has created an Eldercare Locator that helps you find local services pertaining to medical issues, financial support, nutrition, in-home services, legal support and more.