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Who typically cares for mom and dad as they age? Research studies indicate that it’s mostly women, usually daughters that become the care-givers for aging parents. Recent estimates report that 34 million Americans serve as unpaid caregivers for other adults, usually elderly relatives, and that they spend an average of 21 hours a week helping out.  One of the most important things you can do to help yourself and your family through this transitions is to plan ahead.  So let’s take a look at some the issues you might be facing.

Increased Financial Burden

AARP estimates that unpaid caregivers spend an average of $2,400 a year on care for their elderly.  Those who put in more than 40 hours a week spend as much as $3,888 of their own money each year. You will need to prepare for this either individually or as a family.  One of the best ways is to have a conversation early on with your parents about what monies they have designed for retirement and how it can be accessed when needed.

The Emotional Consequences

Caregivers typically experience significantly increased levels of stress and restricted social activities.  They report having one or more chronic condition such as high blood pressure at nearly twice the rate of all Americans.  91% report being depressed. This is easy to understand if only one person is responsible for all of the care giving.  It’s important to manage these duties between several members of the family and/or friends if possible.  If money permits, hire outside caregivers that have been carefully screened.

This is also a time of life when your parents aging can be the cause that unlocks your family’s hidden (or ignored) dysfunctions.  Tempers may flare over seemingly inane situations – often about money.  If need be, hire a third-party to come in and mediate family meetings.  Someone has to remain objective with the eye on the primary goal of taking care of your elderly parents.

What becomes extremely important is how the caregiver communicates to his/her elderly. Getting old is hard enough and when children have to tell their parents that they are worried about them living alone, it can be uncomfortable for everyone involved. Where will your parents live as they age?  How do you tell them that they can’t drive any more?  No one prepares us for these kinds of conversations.  Again, planning for the future is key to easing this process.

Talking to Older Parents About Independence

Unfortunately the issues won’t go away if you ignore them.  So the best way to deal with these inevitable changes is to plan in advance – before any problems arise.  A study done by AARP magazine found that most parents feel better about having this kind of discussion when things are going well.

When talking to your parents it’s ok to be direct just not confrontational.  Always remember to notice how they are feeling (vs. how you are thinking or feeling or how you think they feel).  For example, say to your dad, “My friend Paul’s father is giving up driving.  How would you like to get around when you can no longer drive?”  Or, “Mom, you seem unsteady on your feet.  How can we protect you from falling and hurting yourself?”

Don’t be afraid to share your feelings about the life changes your parents are going through.  Say to Mom, “You have always been so independent and I can only imagine how hard it is for you to ask for help.  I just want you to know that I’m here for you whatever you need.”

If your parents are resistant to talking about their loss of independence, be assured that this is normal.  They may tell you to mind your own business, so be patient and respect their feelings.  You have to remember to keep treating them like equals.  Make conversation another time unless the issue of their health or safety is at immediate risk.

You might need to hold a family meeting where everyone can discuss their concerns jointly and develop a plan that is agreeable for all.  But make sure that your parents feel a sense of involvement and that they still have some control over their own lives.

Listen to their opinions and recognize their right to help make decisions.  Sometimes your parents will make decisions that you don’t agree with.  You have to deal with that yourself.  Make a list of the key issues you need to cover including money, living arrangements, activities such as yard work, doctor visits, and taking prescription medication.

Always remember to be kind.  Not just to your elderly, but also to yourself if you are the caregiver.  This can be a challenging period of life, but with acceptance and planning, it can go a lot smoother.

Additional Resources

Ideas for simple home modifications that can help parents remain at home http://www.aarp.org/families/home_design/ http://www.aoa.gov/prof/aoaprog/caregiver/caregiver.asp http://www.eldercare.gov/Eldercare/Public/Home.asp http://www.nadsa.org/ooks you can Read

American Medical Association Guide to Home Caregiving
American Medical Association, Angela Perry (Editor); Wiley, John & Sons, Incorporated, 2001.

And Thou Shalt Honor: A Caregiver’s Companion
Beth Witrogen McLeod (Editor), Bob Condor, Rodale press, 2002
Written for the caregiver with advice from experts and experienced caregivers on all aspects of providing care

The information in this article is for educational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice.