“Parenting” Your Elderly Parents

Mary, a 54-year old mother of two college-age children, has begun helping her mother Betsy with daily tasks and doctor’s appointments. She visits each morning to ensure that her mother has showered, gotten a good breakfast, and taken her morning medications. Since her mother’s recent diagnosis with beginning stages of dementia, Mary has noticed that Betsy is requiring more care every day. This is causing Mary to experience feelings of anger, sadness, and stress as she takes on the caregiving role that has traditionally been held by her own mother.

Growing up, your parents may have offered support, advice, discipline, and care. Whether you needed to know how to fix your bike, or were seeking advice on how to diaper your first child, your parents may have been a source of guidance. However, as parents age, a growing number of family caregivers are struggling in an unfamiliar role as parental figure to their own elderly parents. Suddenly, the tables have turned and determining to how accept and settle into this new dynamic can be challenging. There are a few steps that Mary, and the millions of family caregivers in similar situations, can take to help ease the rigors of “parenting” your own elderly parents.

Allow yourself to mourn the “loss” of your parent
Although they have not passed away, the person that you knew as your mother or father may be changing rapidly. It is okay to feel sad or angry about your relationship changing, and to allow yourself to mourn the loss of your previous relationship.

Maintain respect in your communications
Elderly parents may be stubborn as well as embarrassed that they require assistance from their children for what was once a simple task, like bathing or getting to the grocery store. While caregiving in and of itself can be stressful, it is imperative to talk to your parents respectfully, and ask them to do the same. Although it may be frustrating for Mary to explain to her mother why she has to take her blood pressure medication every day, doing so calmly and clearly may reduce the chance of hurt feelings and a harmed relationship.

Set boundaries in your caregiving duties
Regardless of how much you love your mother or father, neither of you may be comfortable with having to assist him or her with bathing or toileting. However, taking the time to establish boundaries of what you are capable of, and comfortable doing, will allow you to create a care plan for your parents with which all parties are confident. Remember, outside help, like that of a home care provider, can assist with tasks that are outside of your comfort zone.

Plan ahead to ensure security
Long-term care can drain a family’s financial resources. However, by taking time to plan ahead, children may still be able to talk with their parents about available resources in the estate to pay for care, as well as their desires for long-term care. A realistic plan may help you feel as though there is some roadmap for your parents’ future, as well as yours as a caregiver, and provide relative peace of mind in an otherwise unnerving situation. This FCA blog post, “Making Ends Meet When Money Is Tight,” may be helpful to you, as well as detailed information on financial and legal planning in our online fact sheet, Making End-of-Life Decisions: What Are Your Important Papers?.

Get support
Finding support as you transition into the role of caregiver is imperative to avoid harming your own mental and physical well-being. An overload of stress can quickly lead to medical conditions such as high blood pressure and depression, as well as overall feelings of anxiousness and fear. Support from siblings and friends and turning to online forums and local support groups are some healthy ways to cope. Transitioning from the role of child to parent is a major change in the parent-child relationship. Regardless of your previous relationship with your parents, it’s important to recognize your emotions about the transition and allow yourself to grieve in the process. With the proper support, planning, and patience, parenting your parents in their golden years can be a less stressful and a more rewarding experience.

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