Life expectancy in the US is currently around 78 years, which means that most of us can expect our parents to live longer and healthier lives than previous generations. This is, of course, great news, meaning we get more quality time to spend with our loved ones than before. The flip side is that this also means the current growth in the country’s elderly population is unprecedented, which brings with it new challenges around how to best care for our aging relatives.
It can often be a shock to realize that our parents, who spent so much time and effort caring for us, now need caring for themselves. More than that, it’s often not clear what we need to do in order to best support them. Taking on caring responsibilities is a tough challenge, so here are some tips and advice to help you along the way.
Communication is key
We’ve all heard our parents say it: they don’t want to be a burden on us. While this is a noble sentiment, such a reluctance to ask for help can be detrimental to their quality of life. As such, it’s important to encourage your parents to talk openly about their needs and what changes could be made to help them live more comfortably. Honest communication is vital for not only enabling you to assist your parents as best you can but also for keeping your relationship with them healthy. There may be some difficult decisions to make later down the line, so keeping your parents involved in these from the start is also key.
Encourage good health habits
We all want to live long and healthy lives, and the best way to do that is by sticking to positive health habits from an early age. This is also true for your parents, so try and encourage them to take small steps to keep fit and healthy. For example, if they tend to eat mostly processed food or sugary snacks, see if you can persuade them to include more fresh fruit and vegetables in their diet instead. Likewise, . Try and urge your parents to take regular walks around their neighborhood or a local park, or to do some simple exercises at home like tai chi in order to maintain their physical health.
Beware of loneliness
One of the , so this is a key issue to watch out for when it comes to caring for your parents. It can increase the risk of conditions such as dementia, stroke, and depression, so the importance of tackling it cannot be overstated. Try and encourage your parents to be socially active, for example, by joining a seniors exercise class or taking up a craft hobby where they can meet people. This is particularly key if they live alone. If you don’t live nearby and can’t see them in person, scheduling in regular video calls (or normal phone calls if your parents struggle with technology!) can be a great alternative.
Assess home safety
If your parents live alone, it’s a good idea to to ensure they can live there comfortably. For example, if they find stairs difficult to use, then it might be worth having a stairlift installed. Other changes you can make include fixing grab rails to the wall next to the toilet and in the bath or buying nightlights to make it easier for them to get around when it’s dark. It’s also a good idea to get rid of any clutter that might present a trip hazard, move items to a lower shelf inside tall cupboards, and replace twist taps with lever ones for ease of use. Finally, you might want to get your parents a personal alarm that they can wear around their neck to call for help if they have a fall.
Consider more extensive care options
Sometimes even with all the changes we can make to a house, it’s still not enough to enable elderly people to live independently. Once healthcare needs reach a certain stage, your parents may need more extensive care, for example, by moving into a senior living facility such as . People are often initially resistant to the idea of putting their parents in a home, but these can generally provide a far better standard of care than we can offer ourselves – especially when you’re trying to juggle your own career and home life alongside being a carer. This is even more true if your relatives are suffering from health issues that require more intensive or specialist care. At assisted living facilities, you can rest assured that your parents will receive all the care they need to continue to live fulfilling lives.
Be realistic but also compassionate
It’s upsetting to realize that your parents can no longer take care of themselves, and many of us go through a period of denial because we don’t want to accept this uncomfortable truth. This doesn’t help anyone, though, and can even be damaging by preventing us from seeking necessary help or making necessary changes. Be realistic about the level of care that your parents need, but also be sure to raise the subject compassionately whenever you discuss it with them – it’s likely to be distressing for them too, and it’s important to be supportive.
Look after yourself too
This is vital. Caring for an elderly relative can take a toll on both our mental and physical health, as well as our finances, so make sure you leave time to . After all, you won’t be able to help anyone if you burn yourself out. Try and eat healthily, drink plenty of water, take regular exercise, and get enough sleep. When it comes to caregiving, ask for help if you need it so that you don’t get overwhelmed, look into what support may be available from the government, or speak to age-related charities for advice.