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Caring for Your Aging Parent

Rhonda Foxworthy

Senior woman gets a kiss from her loving adult son who has come to visit her in the nursing home.Assuming the position of caretaker to the person whom you have depended on for a lifetime is both physically and emotionally overwhelming. Every family’s specific situation is unique, yet we all face many of the same challenges. Listed below are ways to honor and protect the dignity of the aging parent while maintaining stability in our own life.

  • Live and give within your limits. Financially, mentally, emotionally or physically over-extending ourselves to take care of an aging parent can result in burnout. Identify what resources you have to give in each area and look for help in areas you cannot.
  • Act out of love, not guilt. Check yourself for the reason you are taking care of your parent. Choosing to act out of love, caring, and empathy will help you grow through this experience and not be consumed by bitterness.
  • Establish an equal and mutual relationship with your aging parent rather than a “child parenting the parent” relationship. This type of relationship can be encouraged by –
    • Communicating how you feel and what you need in a tone that makes the other person want to listen and learn.
    • Listening attentively to determine how your parent feels and what they want and need.
    • Setting healthy boundaries
    • Lifting up your aging parent by showing them love, affection, forgiveness, patience, gratitude, and understanding.
    • Not dismissing your parent because of their age.  Asking them for input.
    • Speaking to your parent using words and a tone voice that conveys respect and affection, rather than impatience and frustration.
    • Not treating your parent like a helpless child.
    • Asking your parent for advice and allowing them to be a parent still.
    • Asking your parent to be a part of decision making to give them a sense of being in charge.
    • Listening to and validating their opinions and advice.
    • Not starting arguments and making the parent feel defensive. Instead, planting an idea, stepping back, and bringing it up later. Being patient.
  • Initiate family discussions. Be aware that siblings are hardwired to help in different ways. Sit down together and work out civil divisions of labor with strengthens and weakness of each in mind. Clear communication within the family is crucial.
  • Step back and plan. As crises erupt, pause and imagine that you are giving a friend advice on the situation.
  • Being present in your relationship – Asking questions about their life. They will not be around forever, but they are here now.
  • Take time to recharge. Meditate, read, walk, or exercise. Space the time between visits and limiting visit times, take guilt-free vacations and turn over some tasks to siblings or professional caretakers.
  • Be aware and accepting of your emotions. The most common feelings felt when caring for the elderly, dependent parents are denial, anger, helplessness, guilt, and fear.
    • Denial: Denial occurs as a way to avoid pain. While this avoidance may seem helpful, in reality, it prevents you from facing facts and proactively making necessary plans
    • Anger: You may experience anger at your parents for being unable to take care of themselves or feel it is their fault for not staying healthy. Likewise, you may resent the amount of time and energy they are requiring. Like denial, anger is often a defense against pain.
    • Helplessness: Even as an adult, you might feel like your parents should always be there to take care of you and help you through difficult times. Parental helplessness often can make you feel helpless.
    • Guilt: You might think that you are not doing enough to support your parent or that if you had done something different earlier, that your parent would not be so ill now. You may also feel guilty for wishing the suffering was over. Forgive yourself for these feelings by acknowledging that they are normal and do not indicate a lack of compassion or love toward your aging parent.
    • Sadness: Feeling sad when your parent is ill and unable to take care of themselves is a normal part of acceptance. Crying is a normal part of this expression. Give yourself permission to grieve.
    • Fear of Mortality: As your parent’s health declines, you will become more aware of your own mortality.  This is self-reflection can be used to increase your awareness of how precious life is and what is really important to you.
  • Seek counseling if you feel you need someone to help you through this transition.




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