Caring for aging parents can be challenging and difficult at times, but it is also an honor and privilege to do so, as well as a God-given responsibility for everyone in the family. “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever”. (1 Timothy 5:8 New American Standard Bible)
Taking care of the needs of elderly parents can also put a strain on marriages unless clear boundaries are set and adhered to, along with getting the supportive help and assistance of all siblings, children and grandchildren. Not only is it important and necessary to care for aging parents, but it is just as important to care for the needs of your own immediate family, such as the husband/wife relationship and that of any children.
The aging parent/child relationship cannot and must not supersede the relationship between husband and wife as first priority, as this goes against the marriage vows spoken before God and witnesses to “leave and cleave unto each other”, thereby creating needless stress and strain on the marital relationship. It is extremely important to understand the difference between caring for needs versus wants, as taking care of elderly parents can often lead adult children to become enablers of their own parents without realizing it.
Some elderly parents can be very difficult to deal with, perhaps even controlling and manipulative, in a selfish attempt to dictate the lives and activities of family members. Some may even claim they are unable to care for basic needs such as fixing themselves a sandwich, when in reality they are fully capable physically and mentally, but choose to expect family members to cater to their every want and whim.
What is an Elderly Parent?
How do you know when your aging parent is in need of help? What signs are there to indicate it may be time to step in and help your parents? Specifying a particular age to signify an “aging” or “elderly parent” would be meaningless, because each person is different in their abilities and health as they enter their advancing years. One elderly parent may be in their early 60’s when needing help, while another parent may not need help until well into their 70’s or 80’s.
Becoming keenly aware of a parents ability to fulfill the basics of living such as bathing and grooming, preparing meals, caring for household chores, doing laundry, remembering and paying bills as needed, shopping, driving skills etc, are all telltale signs of whether a parent may be in need of some assistance.
Caring for an elderly parent encompasses responsibilities from the very basic needs of living, to dealing with physical and mental health problems (such as Alzheimer’s or Dementia), insurance and long-term care, where a parent will live when no longer able to live alone, discussing the parents wishes and desires if incapacitated or unable to make coherent decisions, and much more.
Talking With an Aging Parent
While it is certainly advantageous and recommended for a parent to make plans for their own care before an emergency or serious health problems occur, adult children must often take on the weighty responsibility of caregiver before becoming fully informed of everything involved with caring for an aging parent.
It is then necessary for the family, especially grown adult children to have a family meeting with the parents to ask questions well before an emergency situation arises, gather and save necessary documents (financial, insurance, wills, etc) regarding what needs there are or will be at some point in the future.
- Who will be the primary caregiver?
- What role will others in the family play in caring for the parent or Grandparent?
- What can teenagers and younger family members do to help?
- Are there any signs that some help is needed now? What are they?
- What responsibilities can be shared, and by whom?
- Is there a need to supervise medications, shopping, doctor visits, etc?
- Is there a list of assets and their value? If so, where is it?
- Is there a will, a living will, medical directive, power of attorney? If so, where?
- Location of birth certificates, social security card, marriage and/or divorce certificates, education and military records.
- Is there a private pension, what is the amount, is it directly deposited? Where?
- Are there Social Security payments? How much? How is it deposited?
- Is there a list of all bank accounts, CD’s, safety deposit boxes, IRA’s, stocks, etc? Where?
- What debts are there? Mortgages, credit cards, car payment?
- Is there adequate medical insurance? Long-term care insurance? Medicare? Medicaid? Prescription plan?
- Has anyone consulted with an elder-care attorney?
- Can the elderly parent live alone? Where will the parent live if unable to live alone?
- What about an Independent Living or Assisted Living facility, or a Nursing Home?
- What medications are being taken, and in what dosage? By prescription or over the counter?
- Are there any prepaid funeral expenses? Prepaid burial plot? Are there any specific funeral arrangements desired?
- What are the parent’s wishes regarding when to issue or agree to a “Do Not Resuscitate” order, also known as a D.N.R.?
- Is an Obituary notice in the newspaper desired? How much does it cost? (Some newspapers offer this as a complimentary service, while others charge hundreds of dollars for a two-inch block of text).
- Is there a preferred funeral home? Should there be a viewing? Who will deliver the eulogy?
- Is cremation desired? Are there any specific wishes regarding the funeral service?
These are just some of the many questions that must be asked and respectfully discussed with the parent, allowing the aging parent to retain as much as control as possible over their own care and needs. Educate yourself on legal, financial and medical matters that relate to your parent and the aging process prior to having the family meeting, being sure to include information and facts learned to the discussion.
While you may feel somewhat nervous about discussing death with a loved one, you may be surprised to find that most elderly people are not afraid to talk about it and will appreciate your willingness to carry out their wishes.
Helping Aging Parents as a Family Unit
The entire family is responsible for caring for the numerous and sometimes difficult demands of an aging parent, including young members of the family. Too often this responsibility is placed solely on the shoulders of one adult child, while others in the family shirk their duty to be supportive and helpful in the process.
Baby Boomers are now caring for their parents, in what has been called the Sandwich Generation, while at the same time trying to care for their own children, household chores, jobs and marriages. Regardless of how far away from their parents that adult children and grandchildren live, each member of the family needs to do everything within their power to help care for the needs of Grandma or Grandpa.
Making regular phone calls, sending cards and letters, scrapbook collections and photo’s of fun and happy times, occasional gifts “just because” or to say “I love you” are all things even younger children and teenagers can do to help support the family’s caring for the elderly grandparent. Distance is no excuse to leave all the responsibility to the sibling living closest to the parent.
Think of all the various household chores that are necessary in your own home, and that many families share in, to keep a home clean and in good working order. All of these and more are required to care for elderly parents and grandparents too. Teenagers and younger children can help Grandma and Grandpa with dusting, vacuuming, doing laundry, cleaning bathrooms, calling on the phone, drawing pictures and cards, playing board games, etc according to their individual abilities. Helping in these ways allows grown adults the time to care for more difficult and time-consuming responsibilities like heavy yard work, car repairs and maintenance, grocery shopping, making sure bills have been paid, etc.
By working together as a family, being supportive and helpful in caring for the many needs of the elderly parent, families will have the joy and pleasure of knowing that their efforts were greatly appreciated by the aging parent or grandparent, as well as knowing that they fulfilled the requirement to “honor your father and mother” while they were alive.