Editor’s note: Millions of US adults who care for aging parents worry whether they can cope, how their family will react, and their relationship with their mom or dad.
By Aaron Goldsmith (owner, Transfer Master)
Caring for an elderly parent can be one of the most rewarding things you will ever do. But it can also be a source of stress, resentment, and burnout. Becoming your elderly parent’s caregiver is a huge responsibility, and it often entails a significant change to your lifestyle. You might be worried about how your family will react or whether you can cope with your parent’s care needs, especially as they get older.
These concerns are perfectly normal; most people who care for their parents feel some doubt and trepidation. We’d like to put your mind at rest by exploring some of the most common concerns people have about caring for their aging parents.
Can I Cope with the Responsibility?
Adult children who care for their parents are often parents themselves. They have raised a family and coped with all the responsibilities that come with looking after children. But caring for an elderly parent is a different experience altogether.
Children need less care as they age, but older people need more. Over time, your parent is likely to consume more of your day. They may need support to carry out everyday tasks such as dressing and washing. In some cases, they may need round-the-clock care.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed or stressed, don’t hesitate to seek out help, either from your family or from a professional. Caregiver burnout isn’t good for you or the person you care for.
How Will My Family React?
I don’t have to tell you that family relationships are complicated. Loved ones might support your decision to care for your parent, but they may also resist it. It’s natural to feel some resentment about their resistance, but your choice affects them too.
You might have less time for them. You might be asking them to make a financial contribution to your parent’s care. And, in some cases, you might be asking them to share their living space.
It’s important that you talk to your family and explain what you want to do and why it’s important to you. You may not think you should have to, but opening a dialog helps to clear the air, gives your family the opportunity to share their feelings, and it can often smooth hurt feelings before they damage relationships.
How Will Caring for My Parent Impact my Job?
Around a quarter of adults between 45 and 64 care for an aging adult, many while working full time. For most of these people, their parents need only occasional help with errands or housework. But people who care for very elderly or disabled parents can expect to spend several hours per day on caring activities, and sometimes more.
Balancing work-life and caring is often challenging, and you may have to reprioritize your time. It’s worth talking to your employer about a flexible work schedule, working remotely, or even reducing your hours.
Many employers are happy to help, but not always. If you can’t change your work schedule, you may want to consider hiring a professional caregiver to help out while you’re at work.
How Will It Impact My Relationships with My Parent?
When you start caring for your elderly parent, the transition can be tough for both of you. Your mom or dad may not welcome the apparent role reversal, and older people who need care from their children frequently struggle with feelings of inadequacy, guilt, and depression.
On the other side of the equation, taking on a caring role for the person who raised you can stir up a host of difficult-to-process emotions. It’s not easy, and it’ll take some getting used to. Friction and disagreements are likely at first. However, with conversation, a consistent schedule, and clearly defined boundaries, you and your parent will adapt over time.
Is My Home Suitable for my Elderly Parent?
Our final concern is only relevant to people who intend to invite aging parents to live with them. Depending on their age, physical condition, and cognitive abilities, you may have to make some changes to your house. Typical modifications include:
- Threshold ramps so that they can move around the house easily.
- Handrails on stairs and other areas that present a tripping hazard.
- Rails and other supports in the bathroom, especially around the toilet and bath.
- If your parent uses a wheelchair or walking frame, you may need to widen doorways to allow easy access.
Your mom or dad may also benefit from a home hospital bed. These have the same features as a hospital bed—motorized head, foot, and height adjustments—but they are designed to blend in with the decor of your home. A home hospital bed helps people with mobility or strength limitations to get into and out of bed more easily, as well as to sleep in a comfortable and safe position.
Adult children often feel guilty they have concerns about caring for their parents, but it’s important to understand that these concerns are normal. In the US, 17 percent of adult children care for their parents at some point, and many people who take on that responsibility are themselves approaching retirement age.
Millions of people are in the same situation and have the same doubts and worries. Guilt isn’t the answer, but if you feel you’re struggling to cope, don’t hesitate to ask your family, a medical professional, or a professional caregiver for help.
Aaron Goldsmith is the owner of Transfer Master, a company that has built electric adjustable hospital beds for the home and medical facility since 1993. He started with a simple goal that hospital beds should allow wheelchair users to transfer independently in and out of bed. 25 years later, his customers are still at the center of everything he does. For more information, be sure to visit transfermaster.com or contact the team via email.