Posted: September 27, 2023
Aging is an inevitable part of life, and as our parents grow older, we may find ourselves faced with new challenges and responsibilities. Supporting aging parents can be an emotional journey that is both deeply rewarding and profoundly challenging, and it can be an opportunity to strengthen our bond and provide our parents with the care and support they deserve.
Each of our journeys will be unique depending on a multitude of variables including our relationship with our parent, ability to support them (financially and with our time) and our parent’s health status just to name a few. But, generally there are a few common themes that may help you navigate your path: be proactive, be patient, find and use resources to help you and take care of yourself.
It’s a fact – we all have parents and if we are fortunate to have them still with us, the odds are pretty good that at least one of them will need some help in their later years. According to this fact sheet from the CDC discussing caregiving for a person with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, more than 16 million Americans are providing that care, with 2/3 of the caregivers being women and 34% being 65 or older. Approximately 25% are “sandwich generation” caregivers, meaning they’re caring for both their children and their parents at the same time. Well over half of caregivers provide care for four years or more.
The reality that many will experience is a reversal of roles, with the adult child becoming a caregiver for their aging parent. This may be the most challenging part of coping with our aging parents – getting over the mental hurdle of becoming the responsible caregiver for the parent who once cared for you. Once you’ve had this awakening, you’ll never be quite the same. You realize your place in the cycle of life. Your family dynamics have shifted. And while the dynamics have shifted, your parents are still your parents. Take on your new role gently.
It’s helpful to know what’s really happening with our aging parents in order to better understand and support them. Aging is a natural part of life and can bring about physical, cognitive, and emotional changes that can alter our relationship and how we used to know our loved one. Some common aspects of aging include:
If you can talk to your parents about their wishes before they need help, you are ahead of the game. Knowing what they want can help you plan for their needs including the right living environment, financial commitments, and who will be responsible for making decisions for them, should that need arise. It’s also important to have the legal paperwork created such as a will, medical and financial power of attorney, any trusts or financial arrangements set up. Being proactive also includes having a plan when the time comes to make changes such as moving to a new living environment.
As our parents age, they may need more time to absorb new concepts and conversations. Patience and persistence go a long way toward making conversations productive when communicating with aging parents. Don’t go in with the expectation that everything should be resolved in one sitting. You may need to bring up your concerns to your parents numerous times — so be patient.
With the increase in need, there are numerous resources available to support caregivers navigate this journey, such as senior living communities themselves, placement services, as well as national and local programs. Look into government programs, local agencies, and online platforms that offer guidance, financial assistance, and respite care services. Depending on the support you need, you can find resources in Colorado and in Mesa County.
As the saying goes, “put on your own oxygen mask first so that you can help others.” Supporting aging parents can be demanding, both physically and emotionally. Whether you are physically caring for your parent or managing and making the hard decisions, you are taxing your own reservoir of resources. Caregiver burnout is real. Remember to take care of yourself. Schedule regular breaks, maintain your own health, ask your siblings and family for help and seek professional help if you’re feeling overwhelmed or experiencing burnout.
Supporting aging parents is a multifaceted journey that encompasses both challenges and opportunities for growth and connection. While the reality of caregiving can be daunting, finding resilience and positivity in this journey is possible. It is a unique opportunity to give back to those who cared for us and to create meaningful, lasting memories with our parents.