As a child, you probably viewed your parents as ever-present figureheads. They had the answers and were always there to help you. Now, as you navigate through adulthood, your parents are facing a transition of their own into older age.
This can leave them and you with questions about what to do next, and if you don’t approach this next stage of life wisely, everyone could suffer. Here are five important ways to cope with aging parents while maintaining your relationship and doing what’s best for everyone.
First and Foremost, Protect Yourself
One of the hardest things for most families facing challenges with aging parents is keeping up with their own lives. This can create burdens and time-pressures on you, as you try to help. Your parents might need more help now than ever, whether because they’re starting to show signs of cognitive decline or because their bodies just aren’t what they used to be. This can be a major life change for any kin to deal with.
No matter the reason, it’s important that you carve out your own boundaries and self-care during this process. Caregiver burnout is very real and difficult to cope with. If you’re arguing with your parents about what to do next or struggling to find a moment to yourself amid the busy day of caring for them, prioritize de-stressing and activities that are important to you.
Stay Open to Outside Help
There is no shame in asking others for help with your parents—and it’s often what’s best for elderly family members. It could be possible that it’s time for your parents to start thinking about transitioning into a nursing home or other type of assisted living facility.
These establishments are here to help you, as are aides and other resources that could help your parents age in place. You are not a failure for calling on outside help. You deserve to live the life you want, too, even if that means you’re not the exclusive caregiver for your parents. Outside help also often has the expertise that exceeds your own, so the care they provide is more comprehensive and informed.
Make a Plan Now
The best time to plan for what your parents want in their later years is before they need help. But that didn’t or doesn’t happen, the second best time is now. It is significantly easier to discuss with your loved ones important things like staying in their home, getting transportation help or moving into an assisted living facility if they are not already on the cusp of needing to consider those things.
Later, cognitive challenges and behavioral changes can make these conversations much more difficult. You can approach these topics by expressing that you’re concerned about their well-being and that you’re not sure you have the knowledge to help. Ask them what they would like to do, rather than making the decision without involving them.
Make Memories and Set Boundaries
Your parents are facing the later stages of their lives—which means they will not be around forever. Now is an excellent time to establish good memories and develop routines that disentangle their lives from yours in a healthy way. You will need to be prepared to succeed without them.
Spend time together on activities that are suitable to their abilities. That could simply be walking around the block and having a good conversation or asking them to help you plant perennial flowers that will bloom long after they’re gone. During this time, work to gradually set your own lifestyle patterns that do not involve them so that you maintain a healthy relationship with yourself and your spouse, children, and friends.
Focus on Underlying Causes
As your parents age, you might notice that their personalities may start to change. This can happen as the brain faces gradual degeneration, and it may make your relationship strained. You might argue about things that were not problems before, or you could find your parents intractable or unreasonable when discussing future plans.
It’s easy to get frustrated in these circumstances. Try to focus on what’s behind these emotions from your parents. Understanding their anger or resistance about solutions or options could be rooted in their fear growing old. Showing sympathy for their concerns and anxieties can go a long way to help you defuse and resolve each situation more easily.
Reach Out to Community Resources to Help Your Parents (and You)
Helping your parents as they age can be a challenge for both them and you. You might not have the time you want or need to cultivate your passions and happiness, and you may not come equipped with the experience necessary to keep them safe as they get older.
Don’t be afraid to reach out for help. Shepherd’s Center of Northern Virginia can help older adults and their families adjust to the more significant needs of aging by pointing you toward resources that make this process easier. Reach out for assistance to find the resources that your aging parents need.