Offering help to your parents
By Liz Foss
Does any of this sound familiar?
Mom, who used to be the world’s promptest bill payer, has her electricity shut off for nonpayment.
Dad insists that he can rake all the leaves – same as always – but then spends two days in the recliner with the heating pad on his back.
The washer and dryer are downstairs, but the folks manage by throwing the clothes down the stairs, going up and down multiple times, despite the bad knee, hip, shoulder, arthritis, you name it. Then, the clean things go into a plastic bag, which gets dragged up the stairs. And the stairs are often dark, may or may not have railings – and don’t forget the extra canned goods, water bottles, etc., that are stored on the steps! Oh, and they like to carry a jar of ammonia down to “’boost” the detergent in the laundry.
As your parents age and start needing assistance with life’s tasks, it can be difficult to navigate a way to assist and maintain a positive and balanced relationship at the same time. When you start taking on a parenting role, the switch can be disconcerting for all. Sometimes, it is just plain embarrassment at not being able to handle things that is the obstacle, and sometimes, there is a cognitive change, which means your parent may not realize that he or she isn’t effectively taking care of business. Providing help with dignity, while avoiding anger and embarrassment, is the goal, but how do you do it? Here are some tips:
- Ask what they need help with (even if it seems clear to you). Let your dad tell you what aspects of a particular activity he needs your help with, and if possible, try to limit your assistance to just those things, at least for now.
- Let them take the lead. If possible, do the tasks alongside your mom rather than doing it for her. While this approach might take longer than doing it yourself, you allow mom to retain some self-esteem by letting her take the lead.
- Set up invisible safety nets. For example, if you come every Sunday and set up your mom’s medications in a weekly medication management system, you can have some expectation that she will take the correct medications at the right time. But it wouldn’t hurt to also have a way of checking that once or twice during the week. This might take the form of a medication management visit by a home care company or trusted friend or relative or perhaps daily medication reminder phone calls from you.
- Ensure safety. Make a distinction between safety and everything else. When your dad’s safety is on the line, you might just have to take charge by taking over. On the other hand, if you’d just prefer that something be done a certain way or at a certain time, there might be an opportunity to loosen the grip a bit.
Your job as your parents’ caregiver is to keep them safe, comfortable and happy. As long as you keep that in perspective, you should have no trouble taking charge without taking over.
Liz Foss runs the Worcester area Seniors Helping Seniors, a non-medical, in-home care agency. Having worked as an accountant for nonprofits for many years, Foss now has her own business, which hires active seniors to help people remain in their homes for as long as possible. Seniors Helping Seniors provides services in Worcester County. For more information, visit seniorshelpingseniors.com/worcesterarea, call (508) 885-6004 or email Foss at firstname.lastname@example.org.