Aging is a natural process that we all go through. But at a certain point, it’s not one we can go through alone anymore. When you notice that your mom or dad is struggling to live independently, it’s time to discuss the possibility of caring for them at home.
Tips for how to care for your aging mom or dad at home range from obvious issues, such as being honest with your parent, to caregiving aspects that you may not have even considered before, such as dealing with your stress levels and why it matters.
Tips For Taking Care Of Elderly Parents At Home
When taking care of elderly parents at home, it’s important to make sure you’re also taking care of yourself. This means that care should be centered around keeping your family as a whole healthy, active, safe, and happy. To accomplish this, take steps to reduce the caregiving workload and stress.
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
A vital part of taking care of your elderly parent is having open conversations with them. Talk about their needs, your capabilities, and how you can work together to make the transition easier.
While this isn’t always possible depending on your parent’s mental state, honesty and communication go a long way in establishing and maintaining a healthy relationship.
There are a number of topics you’ll need to discuss with your parent when you take over their care, whether they’re moving in with you or vice versa. These include:
- The level of care your parent needs (or that you feel they need)
- Medications, medical assistance devices, and special needs
- Expectations in terms of independence and privacy
- Transportation, curfews, and driving abilities
- Daily or weekly schedules for the household
- Financial support and what resources are available
Keep in mind, these are just a few topics that you may want to go over. There may be other specifics to discuss as well, such as the matter of pets, romantic partners, how to reach you at work, the temperature of the house, etc.
While it’s somewhat inevitable that the nature of your relationship with your parent may shift, that shift doesn’t have to be negative. Communicating openly with your parent helps ease everyone into the new dynamic and reduces the chance of friction and contention within the household.
How To Talk To Your Parents About Caring For Them
It can be difficult to broad the subject of caring for your parents and either moving them in with you or moving in with them. They may refuse your help and become belligerent, angry, or otherwise upset. When this happens, there are several communication strategies you can fall back on.
- Evaluate Their Life – Think about what your parent values (self-sufficiency, purpose, etc.) and what motivates them. This can help you express concerns in a way that won’t accidentally demean, infantilize, or dismiss their feelings.
- Focus On The Positives – It’s always better to focus on the positives over the negatives, such as how you’ll be able to spend more time together and preserve your parent’s independence. Talk about how you both can benefit from a new caregiving arrangement.
- Make It About You – If need be, shift the conversation to focus on yourself and how much you need this new caregiving arrangement. Phrased like this, your parent may be more willing to change and/or sacrifice their current living situation.
- Consult Experts – For parents who are especially stubborn, it may help to bring in experts. They can present evidence supporting a new caregiving arrangement and break down the quantifiable benefits.
Remember to be sensitive to your parent’s feelings during this transition. Giving up independence or an established lifestyle is difficult, even if the change is necessary.
Learn About Your Parent’s Needs
An important step to taking care of your elderly parent at home is understanding exactly what type and level of care is required. Some seniors are still physically and mentally fit, while others need an extensive amount of daily (or even hourly) care.
Consider how much care your parent will need on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. If you’re unsure, try these tips:
- Have an honest conversation with your parent about what they need from you
- Watch your parent for a week and make a note of every activity they need help with
- Consult with friends, family members, or past or current caregivers
Create a list of to-do’s that outline these daily, weekly, and monthly needs. When compiling this list, try to be as realistic as possible. Below are a few care needs to consider:
- Autonomous cooking and eating
- Coordination and mobility
- Driving or other transportation
- Personal hygiene (bathing, brushing teeth, etc.)
- Toilet hygiene (wiping, flushing, etc.)
Keep in mind, the ability to perform a task isn’t the same as performing a task independently.
Cooking is a great example of this. If your parents can still make their own meals, that’s great! But can they do so without supervision, help, or pain? If the answer to any of these is ‘no,’ then that’s a daily activity that needs to go on the list. Even though you’re not cooking, the process still requires time and effort on your part.
Be Realistic About Your Ability To Meet Your Parent’s Needs
Once you understand your parent’s daily, weekly, and monthly needs, critically examine your current lifestyle and responsibilities. Consider whether you can realistically meet these needs without burning out or neglecting your parent.
It may help to write down what your weekly schedule looks like. This can help you more accurately gauge how much time you actually have to dedicate to your parent. Try to categorize your schedule into three blocks: definitely busy, flexible, and definitely free.
When developing this schedule, consider these points:
- How much time does your job take up? Include time spent commuting, working after hours, and attending professional functions, such as conferences or networking events.
- How much time does your schooling take up? If you’re working towards a degree or certification, think about how much time you’ll need for studying and assignments.
- Are you a member of any volunteer organizations? Consider the time you spend volunteering, attending meetings, and performing activities for this organization.
- Do you have a child or any dependents? If you’re already acting as a caretaker for one or more people, be realistic about whether you can handle more.
- Do you have any pets? Pets aren’t typically as time-consuming or financially taxing as children, but they’re still dependent on you.
- How much “me” time do you need? Whether it’s working on a hobby, going out with friends, or just treating yourself, think about the time you need to recharge.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to take care of your aging parents. In fact, many people find caregiving to be fulfilling, especially when family is involved.
But caregiving is also a time-intensive, stressful activity. If you’re not honest about whether you can handle it, caring for an elderly parent can cause more harm than good for everyone involved.
Address As Many Risks As Possible
Making sure your parent is safe should be a top priority as you take over their care. Before they move into your home (or even if you’re moving into theirs), address as many potential safety hazards as possible.
Because of your parent’s age, you’ll need to take extra precautions in terms of their care. This is especially true if their physical or mental health is deteriorating.
Check out the list below for some ways you can make the rooms in your home safer for everyone, your parents included:
- Bathrooms – Add grab bars and floor mats in the shower (and potentially a shower seat). Install a grab bar near the toilet, as well, and upgrade to faucets that are easy to turn. Automatic devices, such as sinks, lights, and toilet lids, would also help.
- Kitchen – If necessary, add child locks to the cabinets, doors, and utensil drawers. Secure the knives and any other dangerous instruments out of reach. Check that your major appliances (such as the stove) can’t be accidentally turned on.
- Living Room – Make sure there’s clear space for your parent to walk; get rid of clutter and unnecessary furniture or items, especially cords.
- Bedrooms – Lowset beds and step stools make it easier for your parent to get into and out of bed. Remote controls for lights and any ceiling fans can also make them more comfortable.
There are some safety precautions that should be implemented throughout the house in all common spaces. These include adding night lights so that your parent can easily see in the dark and removing rugs and similar tripping hazards.
If at all possible, keep your parent on the ground floor. Stairs are a serious safety hazard, and installing a chair lift or elevator aren’t always financially viable options.
Don’t Be Afraid To Ask For Help Or Share Responsibility
Caring for an elderly parent is often time-consuming and labor-intensive, more so than many people can handle on their own. If this is the case, take advantage of resources that will lighten the emotional and physical load.
Here are a few different ways you can share responsibility for your elderly parent, even if it’s just for a short time:
- Enrolling in adult day care programs
- Hiring in-home help or caregiving
- Signing up for senior companion programs
- Using a respite care service
- Registering with meal delivery services
- Hosting clubs or activities at your home
- Asking friends or family to visit
- Having groceries or other necessities delivered
- Sharing custody with siblings or other family
When considering different resources, make sure to do your research. At the same time, try to keep an open mind and be flexible. The goal is to provide you with short- or long-term breaks, while also keeping your parent safe, engaged, and active.
Lighten The Caregiving Workload As Much As Possible
Even if you understand your parent’s caregiving needs and are prepared to meet them, you may not be able to handle them all the time. This is especially true if you have to take on extra responsibilities at any point, such as at work, or if your parent’s needs escalate.
Whenever possible, lighten the caregiving load. All of the activities discussed in the section above can help, but there are a few areas that take up more time, resources, and energy than others:
- Preparing Food – Using a meal delivery service is convenient, but not always financially viable. Buying ready-made meals, using food prep, and having groceries delivered or ordering them online can save time and money.
- Using Assistive Devices – Senior assistive and care devices can preserve your parent’s sense of independence and reduce your workload. Adaptive clothing, mobility aids, and smart home devices are just three examples.
- Integrating Smart Technology – If possible, integrate smart technology into your home. Hands-free and automated devices, such as Alexa-linked kitchen appliances and digital pill dispensers, can save you valuable time.
- Using Health Trackers – Instead of physically checking your parent’s health, consider using a digitized health tracker, such as the Apple watch or Fitbit. These can track users’ heart rate, activity level, sleep, and more.
By lightening the caregiving workload as much as possible upfront, it can help prevent you becoming overworked and reduce stress later on.
Understand Your (And Your Parent’s) Finances
A primary component of taking care of your elderly parent is finances— yours and theirs. You need to be financially stable enough to take on caregiving responsibilities. At the same time, you need to know your parent’s financials to understand the support resources available to them.
While your parent’s financial status may be arguably less important than yours (you’re the caregiving, after all), it’s specifically relevant in the following situations:
- You’re not able to 100% financially support your parent
- You’re moving into your parent’s home to take care of them (can they still handle a mortgage, repairs, etc., or are you going to have to take over?)
- You’re currently caring for your parent but are unsure if you can keep doing so
- You can’t solely care for them and need regular help, such as through an in-home caregiving program
- You’re considering a nursing home or retirement community in lieu of them moving in with you (or you moving in with them)
It’s possible that you’ll need to meet with bank employees, financial advisors, or similar individuals to straighten out your parent’s finances and get a clear understanding of what resources are available.
Find Out What Financial Resources Are Available
If you’re worried about the cost of taking care of your aging parent, consider looking into financial resources. Different resources are available for both caretakers and elderly individuals, depending on the eligibility criteria and your specific circumstances.
- Medicaid – Medicaid that can provide financial support for both caregivers and program beneficiaries. Currently, there are four programs available that directly support caregivers: HCBS waivers and 1915(c) waivers, personal care services, caregiver exemptions, and adult foster care.
- State-Based Programs – Much like Medicaid, nursing home diversion program are state-based. To avoid unnecessary nursing home placements, elderly parents can essentially “hire” their adult children to care for them.
- Programs for Veterans – Veterans Directed Care and the Aid & Attendance and Housebound benefits (pensions) are two options for caregivers of parents who served in the military.
- Life Insurance – Life insurance policies that are over $50,000 can be cashed out to caregivers via a life settlement. Alternatively, a Medicaid Life Settlement functions the same way but preserves your parent’s ability to go back on Medicaid in the future.
- Long Term Care Insurance – Similar to state-based programs, elderly individuals with long-term care insurance may be able to use the benefits to “hire” their adult children to care for them. However, there are often logistical hurdles with this option.
- Paid Family Leave (PFL) – If available in your state, PFL laws will allow adult children to take time off (typically between 4 – 12 weeks) to care for their aging parents without fear of losing their job or health insurance.
- Tax Deductions And Credits – On taxes, caretakers are eligible to claim care expenses incurred by aging parents. This may include home care, adult day care, chair lifts, mobility devices, etc.
These are just a few broadly-available financial resources available to caretakers and their elderly parents. More may be available depending on your parent’s current or previous income, marital status, property holdings, etc.
There are also specific programs that can help finance prescription drugs or medication, transportation, legal aid, energy or utility assistance, nutrition (such as SNAP or food stamps), and other necessary assistance.
Resources like the Area Agency on Aging, Benefits Checkup, and Paid Caregiver Program database can help you find applicable financial resources in your state.
Take Care Of Yourself (And Your Stress)
It may seem contradictory, but one of the most important aspects of caring for your elderly parent is self-care. If you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be able to care for your mom or dad. Taking steps to identify and reduce stress is one of the most important factors of self-care.
When caring for a parent, it’s almost inevitable that you’re going to be stressed. Whether you’re only stressed every now and then or you’re stressed on a daily basis, you need to identify the sources of stress and take steps to reduce or address them.
Ignoring stress or trying to power through it will only make it worse over time. Instead, try to find a healthy outlet for your stress, such as:
- Schedule “Me Time” – Purposefully setting aside time to get your hair done, grab lunch with a friend, go to a movie, and engage in enjoyable activities is important. The goal is to take time to think about yourself, instead of always focusing on your parent.
- Start Journaling – Studies have shown that writing down your thoughts every day has a positive impact on our mental health. Take time to write in a journal or otherwise chronicle your thoughts.
- Practice A Hobby – Make time for a current hobby or start trying out new hobbies. Either way, you’ll be able to focus on something that makes you happy or proud, produces tangible results, and potentially presents socialization opportunities.
- Exercise Regularly – Exercising is a great way to reduce stress and release endorphins. You have a chance to physically work out your frustration, anger, or other emotions.
- Create A Schedule – Laying out your schedule can help you manage expectations. You’ll be able to identify how much time you spend caretaking and how much time you spend relaxing or otherwise resetting (i.e., dealing with your stress).
- Set Boundaries – Even if you feel guilty about your parent’s decreased independence, practice setting healthy boundaries. More often than not, that involves saying “no,” especially to unrealistic demands.
How you treat yourself and take care of your stress directly correlates to how well you can provide quality care for your parent. Therefore, it’s in everyone’s best interest for you to take care of yourself mentally, physically, and emotionally.
Signs Of Caregiver Stress (And How To Holistically Address Them)
More often than not, stress can manifest in many different ways, including heightened emotions. Even if you think you know how to identify stress, it’s useful to understand the various manifestations:
- Depression (hopelessness, guilt, crying)
- Withdrawal (lack of interest, lethargy)
- Anxiety (apprehension, unease)
- Anger (blame, resentment)
- Insomnia (tiredness, nightmares, sleepwalking)
You may also catch yourself using coping mechanisms, such as drinking, smoking, overeating, or not eating at all. Any one of these (and others) needs to be addressed and resolved before it becomes a chronic issue or results in health problems.
But even if you reduce your stress and/or deal with it in healthy ways, you need to take care of your body’s other needs, too. Here’s a quick self-care checklist to run through:
- Eat healthy, nutritious foods (but feel free to indulge every once in a while)
- Regularly hydrate with water or other fluids
- Get at least 7-8 hours of sleep every night
- If possible, exercise for at least 15 minutes each day (even if it’s just walking)
This fulfills all of your body’s physical needs, as well as its emotional and mental ones.
Remember, all these components are linked together. If you reduce your stress but don’t eat or sleep well (or vice versa), your body will still eventually crash.
Know When You Can (Or Can’t) Take Care Of Elderly Parents At Home
It can be difficult for both adult children and their parents to accept that independent living is no longer an option. But when safety and accessibility concerns arise, it’s time to start thinking about either moving in with your aging parent or moving them in with you.
Here are some signs that your parents can’t live independently anymore:
- Significant weight loss
- Decreased hygiene habits
- Impaired coordination or mobility
- Losing track of medications
- Unopened mail/ unpaid bills
- Unclean living spaces
- Recent vehicle damage
- Disorientation/ getting lost
- Persistent lethargy/ exhaustion
All of these are signs that could mean your parent needs more help than before.
Keep in mind, one or two may not be worrying— who hasn’t forgotten to open mail or tidy the living room? But the appearance of multiple items on the list above means it’s time for you have a serious conversation with your parent about their health and care needs.
I Can’t Take Care Of My Elderly Parent – What Should I Do?
If you’re not capable of providing your parent with the level of care they need, it’s important to find a facility or program that can. Once aging at home (yours or theirs) is no longer possible, there are several other options available depending on their needs, abilities, and finances
While aging at home is the preferred method of living for most seniors, it’s not always the best choice. Other options to explore that offer more support include:
- Independent Living Communities – One step down from living on their own, these communities offer seniors lots of independence, minimal supervision, and no or limited medical support.
- Assisted Living Communities – These communities offer seniors limited assistance and caregiving with daily activities, such as meals and medication, but otherwise provide a fair amount of independence to residents.
- Nursing Homes – While many seniors resist entering nursing homes, this is the best option if your parent needs regular medical surveillance and caregiving. In recent years, nursing homes have made strides in terms of extracurricular activities and programs.
Be honest with your parent about your concerns and limitations in terms of ability to provide care. Even if the resulting conversation may be highly upsetting for both parties, it’s better to address these issues upfront and work together to find a solution everyone is comfortable with.
Final Thoughts: Caring For Elderly Parents At Home
Caregiving is mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausting for both adult children and aging parents. It’s a daunting transition that can upset your family’s balance and intimidate even the most prepared individuals. But with a few simple tips, such as researching financial resources and dealing with your stressors, caring for your aging mom or dad at home can become easier.
The information contained above is provided for information purposes only. The contents of this Blog article are not intended to amount to advice, and you should not rely on any of the contents of this Blog article. Professional advice should be obtained before taking or refraining from taking any action as a result of the contents of this Blog article. OccupationaltherapyBlog disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on any of the contents of this Blog article.