Transitioning With Our Aging Parents
Recently, I had two friends lose their parents. It hit several of my friends hard, partly because we are devastated for our friends, but also because we realize that we are at an age where we can lose our parents. Our parents are no longer as young, healthy or active as they used to be. It can be shocking and overwhelming and sad all at the same time to see your parents aging before your eyes.
My dad recently painted his vaulted ceilings. While he was able to do a great job, it still made me nervous that he was on a ladder painting a ceiling. What if he fell? Or worse, what if he fell while my mom was not home? While he still feels young and strong, his age is definitely showing. So how do we transition to new roles as our parents begin aging (without stepping on toes or being insulting)?
While my parents don’t quite need caregiving support, they definitely don’t have the same abilities they did when I was a kid. They can’t do the same things they used to do the same way. That doesn’t mean that it’s time for my brothers and me to jump in and take over their lives, but it does mean that we should watch for signs that they need us.
So how do adult children help their parents transition through the aging process without overstepping?
Transitioning Through The Aging Process
People live so much longer (and are more active) than they ever have before. Since many people are active well into their 80s, it’s unlikely that your aging parents will need actual caregiving support in their 70s or even 80s.
Just because your parents don’t need actual caregiving, doesn’t mean they don’t need a hand every now and then. You may not need to step in to buy their groceries, but they may need your help with other things.
So, what should you do to make sure your aging parents are happy, healthy and safe?
- Home maintenance: Safety is a top concern to most adult children for their aging parents. Ensuring your parent’s home is safe and designed for them to age in place should be a top priority. There are many safety challenges to tackle, but investing the time and energy into home maintenance and safety will pay off in the long run.
- Legal issues: The best time to handle legal issues surrounding aging and caregiving is before you need them. It is much easier to make major decisions when everyone is healthy and thinking with a clear head. It can be uncomfortable initiating the discussion with your parents, but getting it out of the way before they need it will make things run smoothly if they ever need to follow through on their plans.
- Health maintenance: Are your parents taking care of their health? Are they visiting a general practitioner regularly to ensure they are in good health? If not, can you convince them of the importance of maintaining their health? Regular visits to the doctor and a proper diet and exercise can prevent future health problems (for you too!).
- Financial management: Your aging parents are likely perfectly capable of managing their own finances and don’t need your help. That being said, occasionally, it is worthwhile for you to sit down with them and discuss some financial issues. For example, are they paying too much for their phone or utilities? Do they need to make changes to their retirement account? Can they save money by shopping for certain items online? I had many clients switch to Amazon for their Ensure purchases because it was significantly cheaper than buying it in the store. What other ways can your parent save money? Unfortunately, it isn’t easy cheap getting old so it pays off to save money wherever they can.
- Adjust family gatherings: A friend of mine recently started mandating that she and her siblings bring food to contribute to family functions so that her 75 year old mother doesn’t have to do all the hosting. Sometimes, we’re so used to our parents hosting us and doing all the work that we forget that they are getting older and cooking for 15 people might be more than they should handle alone. My own family recently moved our 65 person Christmas gathering from my parents’ house to my cousin’s house. It was getting to be too much work for my parents – from the before and after clean-up to the cooking and set up. Pay attention at your family gatherings. Is it wearing out your aging parents? You may need to make adjustments.
- Driver safety: Are your aging parents safe drivers? Maybe they’re safe during the day, but not so much at night. Have you ridden in a car with our aging parent? If you aren’t sure about their ability on the road, get in the car with them. If you know your parent is an unsafe driver but are having a hard time getting them to hand over the keys, check out my eBook for tips on having the discussion and setting your parent up for success as they transition from unsafe driver to permanent passenger.
It can be hard to accept that our parents are getting older. Suddenly, you feel like you need to keep an eye on your aging parents to make sure they are safe and healthy. They may be perfectly capable of living on their own and caring for their needs, but they may need some help here and there.
Obviously, you are watching out for them because you love them, but you do need to remember that your parents are adults. Be aware of how you jump in to help. Are you being respectful? Are you involving them in changes you are making? Don’t discount their feelings and viewpoints.
Transitioning from adult child to caregiver is a stressful time, but it is also a challenging time for your aging parent. It is critical that you keep the lines of communication open as you all transition into your new roles.