How to Care for Aging Parents
Aging is a reality that can be difficult to accept, especially when it comes to our parents. The shift in roles that occurs when children begin to look after their parents can be jarring for some families. We are used to our parents helping us manage challenges as we navigate our way through the world. Now, they are the ones who need our help. This can be difficult for both parties to accept.
Caring for an older parent or parents often comes from a place of both love and duty. We want to make sure they are safe, healthy, comfortable and able to enjoy their lives as much as possible. But this often requires much more direct, hands-on assistance than what we are used to providing. In addition, our parents are still individuals. They want to maintain their independence and freedom, and it can be an adjustment on their part to turn over the reins to their children, even just a little bit.
If you are a new caregiver, you will be faced with some important life decisions. This may leave you feeling overwhelmed, scared or frustrated. The thing to remember is that these feelings are entirely normal. There are plenty of resources available to help caregivers learn to navigate caring for an aging parent. But if you are at the beginning stages, it may be easier to take a big picture approach to what you need to focus on.
What are the most important things to do before your parents are unable to safely care for themselves any longer? What type of caregiving roles will you need to learn if you plan on doing all of the caregiving yourself, or with the support of an external resource or aid?
Below is a checklist to help you work through some of the most significant caregiving concerns in order to assess how to best take care of your older parents.
Determining the Type of Care Needed
Does your parent have prescription medication or need help with pain management? Plan to meet with a doctor who can assess your parent. Working with a healthcare professional, create a medical care plan so that you can provide medical assistance at home.
Preparing a Care Plan
Using the information from the doctor’s appointment, prepare a care plan that addresses your parent’s strengths and weaknesses. This is an absolutely necessary step when you are beginning your caregiving journey. The care plan will help you determine how many hours of care a day your loved one will require, and how many you have available to devote to them. It will help you resolve tough questions, like whether you need a temporary caregiving service to help share the burden. You will be able to share the care plan with siblings as well, or other loved ones who are invested in the process.
Monitor your parent’s medication according to their medical care plan, which should specify your duties and what times of day you should provide medical assistance to them. If they live alone, create a master document with contacts in case of emergencies. This document should also list their medications, advance directives and any additional medical information. Put the document in a clear plastic bag and tape it to their refrigerator door or inside of the front door for easy access.
Preparing to Assist with Basic Needs
You may be required to assist your loved one with their basic needs, which could include bathing, grooming and going to the bathroom. This may involve retrofitting their home or living space with certain tools for mobility, bath safety and home care bedroom products. Many of these products can be found through Ochsner's Home Medical Equipment & Total Health Solutions store.
Food preparation becomes increasingly difficult as we age. You can help your parent by doing their grocery shopping or preparing their meals and by monitoring their nutrition.
The COVID-19 pandemic has presented numerous additional challenges when it comes to caring for the elderly. Here is a list of resources related to meals, transportation, medication, mental health and isolation and Medicare for those in the Gulf South region from the experts at Ochsner.
Keeping a clean and organized home takes more time as we age and become less active. You can assist a loved one by doing dishes, vacuuming or taking out the garbage. Also, ensure walkways and common areas are free of clutter or objects that could cause them to slip or fall.
Transferring Your Parent
Your parent may have difficulty getting to and from their bed to their chair. Be prepared to help them move and make them comfortable.
Transporting Your Parent
Transporting your loved one to doctor’s appointments and other activities will become a common caregiving duty.
Friendship and Companionship
In the midst of all these new duties, it’s easy to forget one of the most important parts of caregiving: companionship. Focus on how rewarding it is to care for your parent and know how thankful they are to have you too.
Finally, look at your loved one’s care plans, monitor the performance of their care and speak with a medical professional if any adjustments need to be made.
Caregiving is the ultimate gesture of love that you can make. While it presents many challenges, watching your parents enjoy their later years and getting quality time with them during this period should be a great joy.
While the duties described above are essential caregiving tasks, it’s important to remember to adjust them as necessary for the individual parent or senior that you’re caring for. And as always, your healthcare team is your partner in caregiving. Make sure to include them in your decision making, or when you have questions.
Editor's note: This article was originally published on March 14, 2017.
Concerned your loved one may have a memory disorder? Learn more about brain health and cognitive disorder services at Ochsner Health.