Aging is a natural part of living. If it takes you one minute to read this blog, you will be one minute older when you finish. Since our parents are older, how do we know the difference between the adjustments of the natural aging process and more significant changes that mean our parents need some help? Where do I start to help my parents get effective services to support their health and well-being? How do I navigate the changing relationship with my parents? What about self care? Below are some tips to use as a guide to these questions as you navigate your experience with your parents or caregivers as they age.
How Do I Know My Parents Need Help?
Unable to Take Care of Themselves: Simple tasks are becoming challenging (tying shoes, flicking a light switch). Parents not keeping up with their daily routines, e.g. bathing, grocery shopping, preparing meals, paying bills, taking their prescribed medications at the times prescribed. The above could indicate e.g. a medical condition, depression, or dementia.
Weight Loss: Inability to cook, read labels or recipes, loss of taste or smell could indicate for example, a medical condition, depression, or dementia.
Memory Loss: is a typical part of aging (e.g. misplacing car keys or sometimes forgetting an appointment) that becomes concerning if parents e.g. forget common words, get lost in familiar places, or are unable to follow directions.
Safety At Home and Getting Around: Difficulty moving around and navigating stairways. It is challenging to walk e.g. unsteady on their feet, fatigue when walking short distances. Has your parent fallen recently? A walking device (cane, walker) might be needed. On the road: it might be time for your parents to stop driving if they become confused while driving or you’re concerned about your parents’ ability to drive safely.
Outlook on Life: Do your parents still have an interest in the daily activities they enjoy and/or social interaction such as involvement with a community organization, visits with friends and family, reading, music, watching sports? A mood change or change of outlook on life could be a sign of other health concerns or depression.
Where Do I Start to Assist My Parents to Get Effective Services to Support their Health and Well-Being?
Talk with Your Parents about Your Concerns: Compassionately describe your concerns for their well-being now and in the coming years, including concerns for their safety where applicable. Ensure that your parents understand the challenges and Include another person(s) who cares about your parents in the conversation where beneficial (e.g. family member, friend).
Address Safety Issues: Point out safety issues to your parents and make a plan to address them e.g. obtaining a walking device, bathroom handrails, chair lift, hearing aids.
Encourage Consistent Medical Check-Ups: Offer to attend doctor’s appointments with your parents or find someone you trust to go with them. This helps keep track of all the related medical information, and follow-up appointment scheduling. Post-it notes or white boards can be used to assist your parents with appointment reminders.
Family Doctor as the Gateway: the Family Doctor is the key starting point to accessing e.g. specialist assessments and care as applicable for your parents, as well as, connecting to local agencies. For example, Community Care Access Centre (CCAC) provides a range of services for seniors from completing a needs assessment, In-Home care, to Seniors Assisted Living residences, and Long-Term Care facilities. A family doctor referral is needed to access CCAC services.
Legal Consultation: meeting with a lawyer about wills, power of attorney for property, and for personal care.
How Do I Navigate the Changing Relationship with my Parents?
Be a compassionate advocate for your parents: There is a difference between caring and being over-protective or controlling. Rather than get into a power struggle, be willing to consider how your parents may be feeling and thinking about their abilities starting to “slip” while trying to maintain independence. Conversations where all persons have the ability to speak up and be heard are important in order to gain mutual understanding and to propose solutions. This may mean multiple conversations to create and implement a plan. Be patient. Remember not to take your parents’ comments personally. The changes of aging can impact everyone concerned.
What about Self-Care?
With all of the demands you may be juggling, make time for yourself to engage in activities that restore and rejuvenate you. At times this is easier said than done and requires being willing to let go and accept help. This may involve accessing support through family, friends, or community organizations (e.g. CCAC, Meals on Wheels, the Alzheimer’s Society) to assist with e.g. yard work, housekeeping, in-home and respite care. As parents’ abilities increasingly decline, this is often the beginning of the grieving process. For some, it can be a time when old or new resentments and regrets surface. Talking with friends or other family members who are assisting aging parents or with a professional (e.g. clinician), can provide perspective. As you care for yourself, you can genuinely be present in each moment with your aging parents. This provides the opportunity to focus on what’s important so that the time together is meaningful. Time is precious.
Written by: Lee Anne Medwid M.A., RP, RMFT, AAMFT Approved Supervisor