As you watch your parents experience the onset of aging, you may expect that a change is coming soon. But that doesn’t prevent the change from feeling totally unexpected—out of the blue—once it happens.
Even in the most difficult scenarios, things can sometimes happen in the right order with a rosy outcome, but not always. The lesson is to expect the unexpected because you can’t predict how things might change. But you can take steps to be better prepared.
Be mindful of changes
The truth is changes may take place in your parents’ behavior that are easy to miss when you’re not right there with them. Your parents may skip medications, their home may fall into disrepair or they may withdraw from activities without telling you. These are all signs that aging at home is starting to be a problem. And they are signs that you can only see by visiting or by asking for the help of relatives, friends, neighbors or doctors. When you can’t travel there yourself, ask others to look for safety issues and to gauge the overall condition of your parents’ home in addition to determining your their mood and general health status. This is vital, because your parents may brighten up during a phone call from you, only to lapse into a state of depression once the call has ended.
If a medical condition is life-threatening and you’re the one who will be helping your parents make difficult healthcare decisions, it’s important that they assign a power of attorney for healthcare to allow you or someone else they choose to act on their behalf.
In addition to changes in your parents’ activity levels and health, you may discover conditions in their home that make daily living harder than it should be. Too many stairs, a lack of adequate lighting and no grab bars in the bathrooms are just a few things to assess in their home. Some of these can certainly be remedied, but often not all of them, which may lead to a talk about your parents moving into a safer home.
Don’t underestimate their mindset
You may form opinions about certain abilities that deteriorate with age, such as driving, handling certain type of tools or engaging in activities that can be riskier with age, like hiking, skiing or swimming in the ocean. Bear in mind that your opinions may not reflect what your parents are thinking. Tread gently. There will be situations where intervening in your parent’s life is clearly needed, but what if this isn’t one of those times? As they age, your parents’ stubborn hold on independence can be at odds with your best intentions.
When you do visit your parents, avoid appearing too pushy about how they’re living. They may resent a visit where they feel like they’re being assessed or criticized. In a 2004 study, two professors explored the issue during focus groups with older adults. They found that the participants “express a strong desire for both autonomy and connection in relations with their adult children, leading to ambivalence about receiving assistance from them. They define themselves as independent but hope that children’s help will be available as needed.” It’s always safe to keep the “as needed” part in mind as you engage with your parents.
Be there when you’re really needed
The key seems to be in the timing: If it’s too soon, your attempts to help can be perceived as meddling in your parents’ lives; if it’s there when it’s needed, most likely it will be seen as a blessing. Aim for being the blessing.
In the meantime, become educated about alternative living options as your parents age. Many families today lack the time, energy and resources needed to bring an aging parent into their home. Fortunately, retirement communities provide a wealth of lifestyle amenities as well as healthcare resources, all easy to access within the community.
If you determine that your parents may need to move to a community, be prepared by investigating places that are close to where they currently live or in another location where they might prefer to live.
Ask us for guidance
As people who counsel seniors and their families each day, we know that watching parents age can be an emotional experience. We can help by answering your questions about downsizing, moving, wellness, financial considerations or any other aspect of senior living, and we even offer advice on how to handle your own situation. Our goal is to have you and your parents be happy with whatever life decisions are made.
Let’s begin a conversation about your aging parents and what you may need to help them live out their lives in a fulfilling way. Call us today to schedule a personal appointment.