Helping Your Parents Prepare for Healthy Aging
As adult children, it can be tough to acknowledge that the pillars of our
lives, our parents, are getting old and need help. That said, how can
we help? Perhaps one or both of your parents are still capable and comfortable
living at home, able to take care of themselves; we’ll help you
plan for the years to come. Or maybe they are living with you, or preparing
to, and in need of assistance; we’ll help you care for them both
physically and emotionally. Read on for six tips on how to plan for, and
navigate, a difficult stage without losing quality of life.
1. Ask them what they want. If they haven’t shared their aging and end-of-life wishes with you
already, it may be time to ask—even if it isn’t easy. Do they
have a living will or trust? A durable power of attorney? How current
are these documents, and where are they kept? Should they no longer be
able to care for themselves, where, and with who, do they prefer to live?
Knowing these things ahead of time will help you handle difficult decisions
and questions in the future, as well as ensuring that your loved ones
get what they need, and want, should anything unpredictable happen.
2. Know what health issues they are facing, or could. Know what medications your parent currently takes, and what their doctor
has planned for them—including over-the-counter products. Being
aware of what side effects (if any) to expect can help us recognize when
something is unusual. Keeping on top of a medication schedule can seem
a mind-boggling task, both for seniors and their adult children; but making
a master reference list that stays in a relevant place, such as the kitchen,
can help tremendously.
3. Watch for sudden changes. Our lives are busy, and keeping one eye on our parents, one on our own
day-to-day is nearly impossible—which makes us more likely to overlook
things. But staying vigilant can help you detect a problem in time to
prevent a more severe decline. For instance, if your parent becomes confused
one week, but was alert and oriented the week before, or becomes unsteady
walking and falls, it could be an acute problem: an infection, medication
side effect or stroke. Staying attuned to what’s “normal”
is critical in advocating for your parents’ care.
4. Have a financial plan in place. It pays to plan early to ensure there are enough funds to meet needs—both
for your aging parents’ quality of life, and to safeguard your own
retirement. Good planning can make sure money won’t be a stressor
in the twilight years you have together. How much do your parents currently
spend? Is the state pension enough for them to live on, or will they need
to tap into existing savings in order to get by? Consider outstanding
debts and a bill-paying strategy. Moving to a smaller, less expensive
property may also be an option for some soon-to-be pensioners.
5. Consider emotional health as important as physical health. Hearing remarks such as “what do you expect at your age?” and
coming to terms with a loss of ability are particularly damaging to an
older person's self-esteem. Remember that age isn’t everything:
our senior parents may experience depression, pain, anxiety and a slew
of other emotions for reasons unrelated to health, such as boredom, fear,
grief or embarrassment. Encourage solutions that will aid functionality,
comfort and confidence. These can help reinvigorate their social lives
and support their emotional wellbeing in the face of very real limitations.
6. Focus on quality of life over quantity. No matter our age, we all want to enjoy life to the fullest and have the
capability to do the things we want to. As our parents gets older, their
quality of life becomes more important to them—we should strive
to support joyful activities instead of focusing on diminishing time and
health. If they love reading but have vision loss, try audio books. Gardening?
Tour a botanical society. Cooking? Share meals. There are many ways to
enjoy life, even after a loss of ability, and many seniors are happier
and more fulfilled when able to “contribute” in what way they can.