Friday, September 29, 2017

Tips for Caring for an Aging Parent

Life seems to happen in mysterious ways, doesn't it? I decided to quit teaching to take care of my first grandbaby. After the first year, her mommy decided to try a few days of daycare but still brings her over here a couple days/week. Meanwhile, my nest FINALLY emptied and the very next day, Mother moves in. Seems life knew way more than I did.

Caregiving is NOT my thing. I mean, I lovelovelove taking care of Baby M. Nothing has been better in YEARS. Caregiving for an adult is different and I'm not good at it. To be honest, I don't love it either. Probably because I'm not good at it. Anyway, when life gives us lemons we must find the vodka.

After only 9 weeks having Mother here with us during her physical therapy and recovery from her horrid hospital stay, we've all learned a few things.

Tips for caring for an aging parent
  1. Get rid of your expectations. Most people know how I feel about expectations, that we're better off not having them and it's the same way when caring for an aging parent. It's best not to expect anything and just let the situation happen naturally. If we go in believing it's going to be the time of our lives, some terrible experience, or anything in between we won't know what our particular situation will be at all because we'll be too busy fulfilling our expectations. If I had expected this to go a certain way I would never have noticed this is not hard, just different. Admittedly, it probably helps that Mother isn't a difficult person and that she does have a good deal of independence and getting more every day. 
  2. Do not expect help. There they are again- expectations. But don't expect anyone to come help you out. Even with the easiest, most pleasant people we do get tired of not having a break from other people for any amount of time. It would be so nice to have someone take your parent for a weekend or a day trip, anything. This gives you a minute to yourself and gives your parent a change of environment. It's truly a win-win but just don't expect anyone to do this. This might be a good thing to put on the list of things to discuss with other family members before your parent moves in with your family. But still, don't expect it to happen. Just appreciate it if and when it does. 
  3. Give your parent something to do. While they may be recovering from an illness, surgery, whatever they can do things. We started out small with things like stringing fresh green beans. It seems such a simple task but I don't like to do it and she likes to have something to do that makes her feel she's contributing to the family dynamic so, at first it was stringing beans. Now, I wash her clothes but Mother folds them and puts them away. She even took her sheets off the bed and put them back on (I just helped a little with the fitted sheet.) She's helping me decorate the jute-covered letters I'm working on for my Etsy shop! No matter how insignificant the task seems, let them do it. The feeling of contributing is monumental in the recovery process and no one will ever convince me otherwise.
  4. No excluding. I have friends who stop by to visit weekly. I look forward to these visits whether we sit around and chat or go out for lunch or walks. We include Mother in our visits every week. She enjoys seeing faces other than mine and meeting my friends she's only heard about until now. She also enjoys seeing the ones she has known personally. If she's tired, Mother just excuses herself and goes into her room. Mostly though, she stays and visits with us. 
  5. No assumptions. Talk it out don't just assume you know what's bothering them or they know what's bothering you. Even if you're someone who just doesn't like to talk much and they are chattychattychatty just talk about it. No matter how big or small the issue, no matter if it seems petty, talk it out. Understanding each other requires discussion. This seems like a 'duh' statement but it really isn't. Sometimes, in an effort to keep the peace or not seem intrusive or assume someone would think us petty we keep our mouths shut. But sooner or later this will have to come out. Let it come out while you can talk about and not wait until you might be upset. 
  6. Know your limitations and share them. Fibromyalgia keeps me from doing as many things as I'd like to do. It limits my stamina and my strength. I am finally in touch with myself on this issue, for the most part, so I know to do things in spurts. For example, I may only be able to get through one load of laundry in a day or I might be able to do 5. I never know. When Mother first got here I pushed myself but that stopped after the first couple weeks. If you don't take care of you, you won't be able to take care of anyone else. I've learned to stand firm on this.
  7. The sounds. Yep, there are going to be sounds. Just know it and get over it from the start. 
  8. Finances. Not my favorite topic but it is one you will need to discuss. In my case, Mother is not going to stay anywhere if she cannot pay at least something. She will obsess over it if you don't let her so I do. It's just a little and she feels so good about it. If she ever needs it back though, I've got it for her. But please don't tell her. 
  9. Find the humor. Y'all, there is humor in nearly every situation. Find it and enjoy it because there are times when laughter truly is the best medicine. 
  10. Make the best of it. There's no use grumbling over this situation (we're not supposed to grumble anyway) as it is what it is. Just make the best of it. Your parent will feel cared about and that's so important. If this is the last time you get to spend this much time with your parent, you'll be so grateful you did it. Life is way too short for regret.
  11. Discuss your routines and theirs and be willing to adjust where adjustments are needed. There's no need to be so rigid in everything we do. This will be a period of adjustment and change so just go with it.
  12. Be respectful of each other. If you find something unnecessary but your parent doesn't, then just be respectful of their needs/wishes. Leave the judgment out of the equation. We don't have to understand why everyone does what they do, but we can be respectful of their mindset.  
  13. Try to be patient. You're going to hear some stories, Y'all. About everybody. And it's not all going to be sunshine and flowers. And you're going to get opinions about these folks. You're also going to hear an awful lot about your parent's illness or recovery. You may even get to hear about bathroom habits. Good Lord. But just try to be patient and listen as much as you can. This is what's on their mind right now. And maybe get good at changing the subject. This always works when I start talking about Baby M and Baby R. I will also throw the 'remember when' subjects. Sometimes you'll hear a story they thought you knew about but you didn't and you end up with a brand new tale of your grandparents or your parents when they were younger and that's just priceless!
  14. The diet. No, not for losing weight but well, let's call it a change in nutrition plan. I'm not one to make a different meal for each person in the house. The lovelies can attest to this as the rule was if you didn't like it, don't eat. To be honest, though, I never prepared anything they didn't like so it was easy. Plus, they liked just about everything so... Mother has some dietary restrictions due to her AFib and type 2 Diabetes. I researched and came up with ways to alter traditional recipes and found some new ones to try. It's been fun, actually and her blood sugar? WAY down. Everyone who eats over here has benefitted from the changes I've made and there really weren't that many as I was already doing a lot of the things she needed. Once the last lovely moved back out I am not fighting the urge to eat candy bars and fast food because those adults who are in their 50s and over don't eat that stuff when it's not paraded around or our arms aren't being twisted. Ha! If you're the type to prepare something different for everyone at the table, great! If not, the benefits far outweigh the cons. This one may actually end up in a post all by itself because I have learned some interesting things.    
Mother doesn't need nearly as much help as others.

All that being said, let me mention again that I have an aging parent who is really not any trouble at all. She is not intrusive or needy. She really does everything for herself except for cooking. She does still walk with the walker but her PT is working on getting her walking on her own again, balance being their focus right now. She is also on oxygen so someone needs to be with her in case something goes wrong with the machine. And I do the laundry because the machines are down a few steps. Plus, she's not driving yet. Other than that, she's good to go. That's not bad. It's not demanding. 

As far as caregiving goes, I've got it pretty easy, actually. 

My tips are coming from an easier place than some others. In all honesty, if I had one of those intrusive, bossy, mean types I'd most likely find an assisted living place for them or at least have someone come in who knows how to deal with this type of person. There are limits to what I'm willing to put up with. But I figure if you have that type of parent, you knew that way before they needed help. There's a difference between being difficult due to the frustration of an illness and just being a mean person. 

We're not in this for the long haul, yet. 

There are those who need to have access to their aging parents' paperwork and such. We're not there yet. We also didn't have to worry about medical services and equipment. We haven't had to deal with the insurance or hospital as Mother is quite able to do all that herself and she prefers to do it herself as long as she can. Don't we all prefer to be independent? 

If you're going to be involved for the long haul I'd suggest the following-
  • do get your parent(s)' paperwork in order
  • make sure the primary caregiver has power of attorney
  • make sure the primary caregiver is on the bank account
  • keep a record of EVERYTHING
  • make sure there is a will
  • become familiar with Medicare
  • get to know their doctors
  • get their friends' contact information so they can all keep in touch
  • look into your local Association on Aging
  • get your siblings together to decide who is going to do what
  • check your area for volunteers who sit with aging parents so you can get out of the house from time to time
  • check out your local senior center (ours is FABULOUS)
  • talktalktalk to people who have beenthere/donethat or who are doing it now and then talk some more
Look, no one wants to be taken care of by their kids. We all want to be independent to the grave. That's just not usually how it happens. It's an adjustment for all involved but it's family. And we do for family. 

Please share your experiences/thoughts in the comments! I'm new to this so I'm sure I've left out TONS.


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  1. Bless you. I lost my folks when they were in their 60s (cancer-both of them). My only experience with an older relative was with my grandmother, who was a horror as she got older. She didn't have to live with us, thank goodness. Bless you over and over.

    1. That's just too early to lose them. I was 20 when my granddaddy passed and I felt so cheated. I miss him every day. And Grandmother, too. At least she got to know the girls. We had her until Molly was around 8. Anyway, Mother should be able to go back to her house in the next several weeks. That's been her ultimate goal and her PT and doctor say she's going to be able to do it! She values her independence so much. I'm glad she's going to get it back.

  2. Thanks for sharing your personal experience and tips for caring for an aging parent. My mother is 79 and was just diagnosed with early Alzheimer's. So far, she's reasonably independent--lives on her own, but uses a walker to get around and does not drive. Until two years ago, my youngest brother lived with her and was her primary caregiver. When he was hit and killed by a reckless driver two years ago, it was devastating for all of us to lose him, but especially for my mother. We are blessed, however, to have five living siblings, four of whom live within 20 miles of Mom. Between us, we will see that she gets the care she needs. I plan to share your post with them as we plan for the future. Thanks Pam.

    1. Oh goodness, I'm so sorry about your brother. I know that was devastating for everyone. There is so much more information about Alzheimer's now than when my granddaddy had it in the 70s and I'm so grateful for that. So glad to hear that you have siblings who will step up. I have 3 brothers and that just doesn't happen with our family. They will call Mother but give zero help. I'll keep you and your family in my thoughts and prayers.

  3. It can be so difficult taking care of aging parents. My mom is 92 but doing well and living in an apartment on her own. My husband's parents live on their own too, they are 89. So far we haven't had too many issues but trying to keep their finances straightened. My mother-in-law has a habit of putting mail in the drawer before paying it.
    We set up automatic payment to fix that.
    Great post.

    1. This is the first time either of mine has had to have care like this and Mother is well on her way to going back to her house and living independently, thankfully. She values her independence so much. What a great idea to set up the automatic payments! I hope your parents and MIL continue to enjoy good health! Thank you!


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