How to Prepare for Aging Parents and What to Expect
No one likes to think of their parents getting older. When we were young, they were our rock. They took care of us. They picked us up when we were down. They made us feel safe. Then suddenly, what seems like overnight, our parents are the ones who need help.
Now, it’s typically people like you, adult children, who step in as caregivers to lend the support they need. But how can you prepare for aging parents? When do you step in? When do you not? To help you know what to expect with aging parents, it’s good to have an understanding of the general stages of aging.
The 5 Stages of Aging
There’s no single pathway or time frame your mom or dad will follow. However, the stages below will give you a good idea of what to look for and what to expect with aging parents.
1. Self-Sufficient Independence
Your parents may be getting older, but these are ones you’ve always known — active, independent, and fully capable of taking care of themselves and their responsibilities. They travel without a problem. They’re social and love to watch the grandkids. Their house is well kept. Their memory’s still pretty sharp. They may have a minor health issue, but nothing that keeps them from enjoying the lifestyle they love. They’re doing just fine.
2. Mild Interdependence
This is when you begin to notice that things aren’t quite normal. Your parents are still independent,but little things cause concern. Maybe the house isn’t as neat as it used to be or the lawn isn’t getting mowed. They’re not going out as regularly. They’re starting to ask you to do things out of the ordinary like picking up groceries or medications from the pharmacy. Maybe they’re beginning to have a little difficulty driving, particularly at night. Perhaps you’re noticing signs of mild memory loss beyond the typical forgetfulness that comes with aging. It could be one or a number of these examples. Whatever it is, something’s just not right.
3. Mid Interdependence
The little things are now becoming bigger. You find yourself at their home more because you see that help is really needed. Your parents still maintain a level of independence, but their physical and/or mental health may be in decline. They may now need help with activities of daily living (ADLs) such as dressing, personal care, paying bills or medication management. They may be losing weight. You may see signs of recent falls such as bumps and bruising. Your parents might admit they need some help, but not every day. This is a turning point where future care options need to be considered.
4. Full Dependency
This is when your parents become fully dependent on you or others, because it’s no longer safe for them to live on their own. They may have physical or mental health issues that require constant care. They need help with more than one ADL such as bathing, meal preparation and eating, maintaining their finances, or getting in and out of bed. They can no longer maintain their home. It’s no longer safe for them to drive. At this stage, important decisions will need to be made, including whether to hire full-time in-home care, make alternative living arrangements such as an assisted living or memory care community, or move your parents in with you, which means preparing your home for senior parents.
5. Crisis Management
There may come a point when a serious illness, Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia, or a severe injury has seriously degraded your aging parents’ quality of life. You may even have to prepare for hospice or palliative care, which no one likes to think about. At this time, the goal will be to make them as comfortable and happy as possible, so everyone can enjoy the rest of their time together.
What If Your Aging Parents Refuse Help?
Don’t be surprised if your parents deny they need help or refuse to accept it, particularly in the early stages of aging. You may think they’re just being stubborn, but remember that older adults value their independence as much as you value your own. They want to be cared about, but fear being cared for. Here are a few tips on preparing aging parents so they’ll accept your help when they need it.
Start the Conversation Early
No one likes to be told what to do or have decisions made for them. Approach the subject early on. Warm them up to the idea. A good way to do so is to use hypotheticals, such as “What would you want or what would you do if…?”
Get Everyone on the Same Page
Chances are, you’re not the only adult child or loved one who has a say in the matter. Gather those involved for a planned meeting. If everyone can’t be physically present, arrange a phone call, or use a service such as Skype. It’s important everyone understands what the issues are, the needs and wishes of their parents, and the possible options for moving forward. Also, keep your family dynamics in mind and how that can contribute or hinder this meeting. Anticipate and head off any conflicts beforehand. Make the conversation positive and productive. Most importantly, keep the best interests of your parents in mind and include them in the conversation.
Hear What Your Parents Have to Say
One of the biggest fears among aging seniors is the feeling of losing control of their lives. If they’re involved in the decision-making process along the way, their doubts and fears may ease, and they may be more accepting of the changes that lie ahead. So don’t just talk to your parents … listen too. Try to offer choices and honor their wishes if it’s physically and financially possible. You might also find they’ve already put a lot of thought into it and have a plan in place.
The older one gets, the more difficult accepting change can be. And yes, an aging parent can just be stubborn, even when they know you have their health and well-being at heart. If they’re unaccepting, don’t push them in conversation and don’t brush off their opinions. Be supportive. Plant the seed, step back, and bring the subject up again at a later time.
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask For Help
The stages of aging aren’t the same for everyone and knowing what to expect with aging parents is never etched in stone. With your parents getting older, becoming a caregiver can be challenging, even with supportive siblings or other loved ones. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. There are many options available to provide the support your parents need, including Lake Port Square, a vibrant senior living community located on the shores of Lake Harris.
As a trusted Life Plan Community, Lake Port Square offers a full continuum of care, including independent living, assisted living and skilled nursing. They even provide respite care to give you time to tend your needs. Learn more about Lake Port Square and how it may be the right choice for your parents.