Caring for Aging Relatives
Written by: Charneise Alston, M.Ed
Aging is an inevitable process that none of us can escape. A defining marker in adulthood is when the baton is passed from parent to child and the responsibility shifts onto the adult children to provide care for aging parents and relatives. I vividly remember when my parents transitioned into seniors around the age of 60. At the time, I was twenty-seven years old and only thought about the perks. I celebrated this new passage with jokes about discounted meals at Denny’s and discounted tickets at the movie theater. I did not once consider how the stages of aging affected my parents or would later affect me over time. Whether or not you are ready, the toll aging affects us all.
When your parents or aging relatives become seniors, progressive changes begin to occur in the course of time. For some, quicker than others but no one is exempt from the changes in appearance, standard of life, mental vitality and emotional health. As a result, elder care is needed which can include minimal intervention and assistance to around-the-clock medical supervision and support. There are essential, daily living behaviors that sustain your loved one’s dignity, physical and emotional health. Self-feeding, functional mobility, clothing, bathing, personal hygiene, and toilet hygiene are all fundamental behaviors that may require assistance over time.
For seniors who are in pretty-good health, assistance with instrumental activities concerning independent functioning is usually needed. Cooking, cleaning, shopping, running errands, managing money, paying bills, taking prescribed medication, and technology use are commonly operational with the aid of family members and friends. Aging presents an array of obstacles that impede on our loved ones’ ability to do these self-sufficient tasks.
Financial assistance was the first service that I provided for my parents as seniors. Once I became fiscally responsible, I would often give my parents, especially my father, random cash to have as extra “pocket money.” As time passed, I realized that I was giving them fish for a night’s meal instead of teaching them to fish for their livelihood. It felt good to bless my parents with money and splurge on their birthdays because I am forever indebted to them for their countless, honorable sacrifices made as parents. However, as stated in my last blog, wise money management is necessary for the legacy of families.
When inspecting my parents’ bills, I noticed that they were paying way too much for cable. Many companies prey on seniors by overcharging them with unnecessary fees and services. I advise everyone to review the finances and budgets of their elder relatives to avoid predatory lending and the mismanagement of money. I have tried to put my parents on a budget but to no avail. As they revel in their latter years, they make it a priority to live their best life by enjoying family members and friends as much as possible. While that may seem innocent on the surface, they often socialize while dining-out. They spend far too much money for my comfort on date-nights and social gatherings, but who am I to judge?
As a concerned daughter, I don’t make dining-out a big issue because all of their financial affairs are in order. Some elders may need assistance in managing finances and retirement funds. In addition, savings and life insurance should be properly in place and up-to-date. Are your senior relatives prepared for death? Unfortunately, businesses have capitalized off of deaths and now charge an outrageous amount of money for funeral arrangements and services. Is your family prepared for life after the death of a loved one? Real estate properties and debts are left on surviving family members to sort out while dealing with their own grief. Make sure that there is an appointed delegate who is responsible and trustworthy to handle the financial affairs of your elders.
The biggest and most costly change for many seniors is determining the appropriate environment that would best support loved ones. Aging at home is preferable for most seniors. This option may require adjustments to the home and more support from family members. For my parents, they chose to downsize their living quarters because they were “empty-nesters” and the steps eventually became burdensome to climb. Many seniors either move into a ranch style home or apartment to better accommodate their needs. For those who are able to stay in their home, adding a bar handle or seat in the shower/bathtub may help prevent falls. Also, motorized scooters over the stairwell can help take the pressure off of knees and joints. Home modifications are necessary to keep many seniors safe.
Independent Living Communities are ideal for active seniors. I, myself, often wonder if this option would be best for me once I become a senior. Currently, I have a three-story townhouse with many steps. While my home is currently suitable, I am not sure that I will feel the same as an aging senior. The only reason why I would not choose an independent living community is because as I am quickly approaching the pay-off of my present mortgage, I do not want to pay another mortgage or rent fee as an elder. With proper budgeting, I want as few bills as possible to accommodate my international travels and lifestyle.
However, the amenities of an independent living community may be best for the social needs of your elder relatives. A gym, clubhouse, swimming pool and yard maintenance are all provided in most independent living communities. Keep in mind that there is no medical support offered for seniors in independent living communities. Therefore, this environment is best for seniors who do not require a lot of medical attention.
Living with a relative is a great solution for seniors who may need help with daily activities. Although you may not be a skilled, licensed healthcare aide, you are able to provide support and companionship. So whether or not you choose to move into a relative’s residence or welcome a senior into your home as a safe refuge, you can help lessen the demands of instrumental activities. For example, you may choose to cook and prepare meals to ensure that your loved ones are receiving proper nutrition. Or, you may choose to drive your loved ones to their physician’s appointments to maintain medical services. For seniors, being surrounded by familiar faces helps soothe the ache of aging.
The final environmental option for aging seniors is placing a loved one in a nursing home. Nursing homes are appropriate for seniors who need a living environment with medical surveillance. This option tends to be the least preferred choice by seniors. While many of us grew up with the stereo-typed depiction of a cold, lonely environment lacking quality care, nursing homes now provide state-of-the-art, advanced services with updated technology. The quality of care provided in many nursing homes is progressively enhanced and compassionate.
Sometimes, an unexpected medical diagnosis or life event may require you to have to consider elder care sooner than desired. It is important that we take care of our elders and do what is in their best interest. Aging is life’s blessing and it should be embraced rather than feared. Having extended family members to walk side-by-side in a senior’s latter years is comforting. It is my heart’s desire to live long enough to witness and enjoy my great grand-children. And, when my time arrives as an elder, I hope that a loving, familiar hand is there to assure me that I am not alone.
“To care for those who once cared for us is one of the highest honors.”