Supporting Aging Family Members
As our parents and grandparents age most of us notice a change in our relationships. Where we were once the ones being cared for, we become caregivers. This role can be extremely challenging for many reasons. First, many of us have never been in this situation before, or even considered this position. It can be a new and confusing time. Second, sometimes our aging family members do not seem to want our help, although we know they need it. Consider these ideas to help ease this transitional time:
Help in the way your family member wants to be helped
Despite any shortcoming or lack of understanding, older adults are still adults and they deserve respect. They have managed independently to accomplish a lot in their lives. During this season they may be slowing down and need help but, most aging adults are not going to hand over the reins of their lives and give up their opinions. Keep this in mind when you offer to help. Are you offering to do what you want to do or are you asking what your family members wants?
Plan for the future, don’t wait for an emergency
One way to make transitions easier is to make changes in a slow and steady manner. If your parents are young and doing well now, start talking about the future. Ask questions like who would they like to help manage their finances, medical decisions, and household tasks? Decide a plan for loss of mobility. Older adults who are married should consider that one half of the couple will be living alone on a reduced income for some period.
Many of these conversations can be emotional and difficult. Starting early can remove some of the emotions from the conversation and make the discussion more of a plan. Consider putting a plan down in writing, make sure everyone involved understands the plan. A great way to start is to lead by example. Make sure your own affairs are in order. If facing these steps of planning are difficult ask yourself why? This is also a great point to explore with a counselor.
Ask for outside help, and set boundaries
Although it is important to keep in mind that this is about supporting our aging family members with what they need, we do not need to ignore our own needs and desires. It is healthy to set boundaries with our family members, even our family members who are depending on us for support. Remember setting boundaries is about controlling our own behavior, not the behavior of others. We cannot control others; we can only control ourselves. Working together with other family members or seeking professional assistance is a great way to help aging family members get the help they need when you are not available to help.
Understand your aging family member's perspective
One of the most challenging parts of supporting an aging family member can be supporting their emotional health. This is especially true if they tend to ruminate on past disappointments. After an adult’s career is over, relationships have been established, and most of life has been lived adults pass into a stage of life understood as integrity vs. despair. During this stage of life an adult looks back at past accomplishments and determines a level of satisfaction, or the adult feels failure and despair. Some adults vacillate between integrity and despair. For many caregivers the constant back and forth fought in an older adult’s mind can be an exhausting thing to listen to and support. Many older adults can benefit from talk therapy during this stage of their lives. Caregivers are encouraged to seek support through counseling as well. Reaching advanced age is a beautiful part of life. With support and planning it does not have to be a burden to anyone.