How to Live With Needful Aging Parents

Before taking on the role of a full time caregiver, it’s suggested to understand the complex nature and difficulties of taking care of an aging parent in your home before placing yourself in a difficult role.

When Ellen’s mom died three years ago, her dad declined rapidly. He no longer ate properly, cleaned his house (never did really), he drove worse than a fourteen year old behind the wheel for the first time, and his hygiene was atrocious. Ellen found herself driving 125 miles once a week to check on him and things. She made sure food was in the frig, doctor appointments kept, laundry done, and that he bathed. Siblings helped occasionally, giving Ellen a break every three months or so. But the bulk of her dad’s care fell on her shoulders. After six months of traveling the arduous highway to hell, to and fro, they both decided it’d be easier for Ellen if her dad sold his house and moved in with her.

Before the move, Ellen’s life was filled with her own family’s needs, a full time job and some personal time with friends and her love of writing! She often dreamed how fun it’ll be after the kids are grown, she’ll spend her day creating romance novels. Who knows, maybe she’ll be another Danielle Steele, she’d laugh to herself. Well, those days are gone. Having dad in the house, Ellen’s come to feel isolated, alone and abandoned by the rest of the living world. “I’ve aged 10 years in this last one and sure I’m headed for an early grave after all the stress and related illnesses. And Dad’s had a miserable life here and I somehow can’t let go of the feeling that it’s my job to make his life better! It’s so hard to know how these idealistic plans to help will actually turn out. I think that if we’d planned better and made arrangements for dad to stay in his home back a year ago, I would have visited when I could - perhaps my brother and sister and I would have contributed equally. My dad would most likely now be in assisted living rather than thinking “he doesn’t need it because he has me.”

Now her dad fills the house with irrational accusations, mid-morning wandering, and his memory loss drives Ellen into her room in panic. The dad she’s known has disappeared, and this mumbling, forgetful, incontinent stranger has replaced him. Where was her dad, Ellen wondered? Is there a core of him within this other person?

Ellen’s body rarely relaxes and most of the time her stomach is aching. She jumps to everything because her life now is filled with managing. Every morning she’s faced with; how to do a job, how to be a caring daughter, how to run a household, how to keep up with growing children and even how to be a devoted wife. And finally, finally, Ellen thought, feeling the nearby tears, how to have a minute to herself and peace to be a person.

“Honor Thy Father and Thy Mother,” she hears drumming in her head hourly. Honor. What did that mean? When she often considers placing dad in the nursing home out at the edge of town, remorse and guilt gets louder, never giving her rest.

Ellen is among the fast-growing groups today, adult children whose very old parents are needful of special care and attention. ‘What to do with Mother or Dad’ becomes an absorbing question for all adult children. More than 50% of the women work and immediate families were near are now removed from the close and caring others. The dilemma of how to cope when parents grow increasingly needful is one we hope to help many people solve.

A recent survey by the National Alliance for Caregiving and the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) found that an estimated 22.4 million U.S. households — nearly one in four — are providing care to someone age 50 or older or have provided care during the previous 12 months.

Do you remember when aging was simply a fact of life for a small percentage of people? We’re in the new age generation of better health, getting frequent, regular exercise and striving to improve our lives. Yet we face a huge concern born out of lengthening our life span – the widespread conflict between adult children-aging parents relationship. By extending the life cycle, the aging revolution has amplified a screaming need for adult children to provide assistance, especially health care and domestic services, for our elderly parents approaching end of life. Welcome to the boomer age!

Did you know the population of the frail is increasing at twice the number of the “young old” and at twice the rate of the total population? As a boomer, what does this mean to you? That couples, like you, who are facing their own retirement are suddenly being responsible for old parents whose needs are boundless! Couples or single baby boomer having planned carefully for their retirement days, wanting to travel or to study or to indulge in many hobbies, are unexpectedly home-bound by care of a needy parent. Or, if the parent is in a nursing home, the “children” still bear the responsibility for frequent visiting and care.

Is this you? Are you feeling trapped at the lessening options of caring for aging parents?

This increasing need is transforming the adult child-elder parent relationship more than any other single factor! Today in America more adult children, like you, provide more care to elderly parents for longer periods of time and for a wider range of needs than ever before in our history. It’s estimated that adult children provide 70 to 80% of all services to non-institutionalized aging parents. As a matter of fact most adult children will have some major responsibility caring for an elderly parent since the age eighty-five plus group is the fastest growing population segment. The demands are on adult children today without any limits on obligations and they’re mounting, having few social supports from the larger society.

Is your relationship like many adult children and aging parents more difficult, stressful, guilt-ridden, painful and complicated than you ever imagined? Are these feelings threatening to undermine the emotional foundation of the heart-felt bond itself? Here you’ll find stories of hardship, pain, frustration, guilt and great desire to live one’s own life but are hindered and trapped by caring for their aging loved ones.

But what can we do about it?

For many Americans growing old means loss: loss of looks, health, job, friends, and pleasures. Too often it means loss of ability to function in a fast-moving society. It often spells withdrawal, isolation, and loneliness. As the adult child, you may feel responsible for fixing these deficits. This what we do best, make our loved ones happy and feel worthy of love and feeling good? Right?

But as they experience the loss your aging senior will become depressed, more often than not. It’s a natural process of grieving. There were many times that my mom cried when she suffered the loss of her health. As a caregiver, her loss was difficult for me too. The mother I knew was changing and becoming more dependent. The saddest part of experiencing her loss was that I couldn’t do anything to change her aging. No one could. I had to accept her body and mind going downhill. She couldn’t change it either no matter how many doctors she visited, medications she took or eating habits she changed. Be prepared to grieve with your aging senior. It can break your heart.

Gone are the days when old people embraced a small percentage of our population, their presence did not make for problems or issues. Most families were rural and settled. Thus, the caring community of family and friends was close at hand. In the non-rush atmosphere of daily life, those who were old could find tasks to do and useful chores to accomplish. I remember my grandmother working in the garden or quilting, canning and cooking. I’d sit by her side watching as she stitched and mended socks and other items of clothing. Gone are those days!

Today is different. With urban development and growth its changed all that. Family lifestyles are no long static, we’re mobile; we’ve transferred to different parts of the country and began to live longer and caught up in a modular style of living that doesn’t make allowances for our old.

Caregivers deal with this dilemma best they know how. Many of us feel trapped in a lifestyle of “there’s no way out” and then resign to moving the older generation in with us without considering options. Our aging parent’s needs have grown in giant leaps and require being cared for due to events and inevitable changes in the later stages of life; like death of a spouse; declines in health and disability increases. At this point adult children are forced to move the parent’s place of residence because sometimes the health care costs has depleted financial resources. But if the economic resources are stable, then the elder parents may have an increased need like emotional and social support – which affects the capacity to live independently.

And adult children face hard questions to face like ‘our parents took care of their mom and dad while raising us; yet we’re unwilling to tend to them as their special needs grow?’ Although there’s some truth to this, it cannot be compared because in today’s population the number of old people has more than quadrupled. In the early 20th century only one person in 25 was 65 or older. That number jumped to one in ten by 1970, to one in 8 or 9 by 1980, and now it’s 1 in 5. Longer years have brought with them increasing fragility and mental disability. Many of our frail elderly have needs so complex that any household or family would be taxed to the limit in caring for them without professionally trained assistance.

What we need to know. What to consider?

Be clear on what your up against and what you’ll eventually face. Remember that knowledge is power and in the caregiving topic can literally save your life. Research. Research. Research. And after gaining knowledge, ask your self some hard questions.

A recent study profiled in USA Today shows the relationship between heavy-duty caregiving and poor health. The study by the non-profit National Alliance for Caregiving says family caregivers often face a “downward spiral of health that worsens as a result of giving care.”

Caregivers say their lives have become more difficult in a number of ways:

  • 90% More stress or worry
  • 69% Less time spent with family and friends
  • 51% Now taking more medications
  • 37% Less time spent at work
  • 10% More frequent use of alcohol or prescription drugs

Know the facts that more than 2.5 million family caregivers isolated in homes across America suffer from depression, stress and rapidly declining health often putting the needs of loved ones before their own. The survey goes on to claim that caregivers as a whole report poorer health than the general population, “the degree of deterioration in caregivers’ health increases in relation to the amount of time they spend caregiving and the intensity of their caregiving.”

Be prepared. Don’t risk your own health’s decline by ignoring your care. Unfortunately for many caregivers, we have the personality of putting others before us. This is an opportunity for you to do the opposite – care for yourself first. Put options in place for that to happen. Know now that you will need help. Period. Get respite and you’ll need breaks for caregiving. And make sure you ask for professional help when needed. Ask for help! Let go of the illusion that you can do it all! This can save your health.