As our population ages, the individuals born towards the end of the baby boomer generation are gaining new responsibility in caring for their elderly parents. While statistics support the fact that adult daughters are usually the responsible party as their parents age, sons are rapidly gaining in popularity as caregivers. Learning to parent a parent takes some skill, intelligence, and an infinite amount of patience.
Step 1: Discuss with the senior citizen the expectations and living arrangements for the future.
The elderly will thrive in a home environment but may decline quickly if institutionalized, even in nice, healthy, safe environments. If at all possible, the elderly should be invited to move into a family home. Of course, this creates the so called “sandwich generation” – those people caring for their children and their parents at the same time. But, for those who take on the challenge of caregiving, the time spent may be the most wonderful, rewarding times of their lives.
Before the invitation is accepted to move into a family home, all parties should have a meeting to discuss the requirements and expectations for the new living arrangements. Discussing financial arrangements is key to going forward with a successful household. Depending, of course, on the financial situation, the senior citizen should be expected to contribute to the family expenses. Discussing how much will be contributed to rent and food might not be an easy conversation but it is critical in avoiding future conflicts.
Step 2: Prepare the family for the arrival of seniors.
Having parents move into the home will be less disruptive if all parties know that there will be an adjustment period – and it may not be a honeymoon. Younger children may feel resentful that their parent’s attention and time is now divided. Set aside one-on-one time with each child every day to strengthen relationships and show them that life will go on.
Step 3: Prepare a safe environment for the elderly in the home.
Similar to childproofing a home, there are a few steps that should be taken in preparing a home for the elderly. Tack any throw rugs down on the edges so shuffling feet do not get caught. One fall may be it for some elderly. If there are stairs in the home, consider adding in a chair lift or an elevator to allow more mobility for the elderly among floors. The addition of nice quality plastic cups or mugs will allow arthritic hands to easily handle liquids without the fear of breaking glass. Clear out a shelf on the refrigerator and the pantry and reserve the spaces for special food items for your mother or father.
Step 3: If possible, allow seniors to bring along their pets.
For a lot of elderly, their closest friends and confidants may be a pet. Your parent may have a dog that might not be your choice of borders but, if possible, allow them to bring their pet with them. Not only are dogs and cats cathartic in reducing blood pressure, but, by having their friend beside them, the elderly may have an easier adjustment to their new life. There is nothing much more stressful than to have to send a loved pet off because he or she is not wanted. Honor the bond your mother or father may have and welcome their animals into the home.
Step 4: Continue to engage the senior citizens in family decisions.
The senior citizen may be feeling helpless and not respected as the head of the family any longer as they’re dependent on others for their care. Take extra cautions to get input from the elderly and alleviate any fears that they may be a burden. Continue to ask their advice for decisions and draw them into the family as the figurehead.
Step 5: Give senior citizens choices.
Moving in and being cared for by a child turns the parent-child relationship upside down. So that the elderly may continue to feel in control, give choices when possible. When fixing breakfast, allow them to tell you what they’d like and then make it. When scheduling doctor appointments, allow them to set the day and time they’d prefer to go. Ask if they’d like to go to a child’s baseball game rather than assuming that they’re coming along.
Step 6: Have a discussion with your elders about how they want to be treated in the case that they become ill.
Although it might be a very painful topic to discuss, death is inevitable. In the case that the senior citizen is no longer thriving, every party should know what actions they would want taken. Assure the elderly that you’ll be right there with them and will abide by their wishes. If at all possible, try to keep your senior citizen in the family home and let them know that those are your wishes. But, of course, if safety is an issue, there is no choice but to search out and employ a clean, safe nursing home.
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