By Nicole Duritz, Vice President, Health, AARP Education & Outreach
Every once in awhile, an adult child is cast very suddenly into the role of caregiver, often after an aging parent suffers a fall or a medical crisis. But more often a parent’s need for support comes on gradually and may not be so obvious. What are the signs? Maybe your mom was always beautifully dressed, but now her appearance looks unkempt. Your dad may have enjoyed reading, but lately he doesn’t pick up a book or take pleasure in other hobbies. You may wonder whether there are unpaid bills in those rapidly growing piles of mail or why there isn’t food in the refrigerator. Not every change is a cause for alarm, but it does signal the time when you should start having conversations with your older parents about getting help with managing daily tasks.
Family caregiver Mary O. from West Bloomfield, Mich., recalls her father’s resistance to accepting help. “He would never admit he needed help, it wasn’t in his DNA. But we did get him to realize that mom needed help caring for him,” she remembers.
Here are a few tips to help you get started:
Call in back up. When repeated conversations lead nowhere, you might bring in a trusted relative, friend, doctor or minister to discuss your concerns. You can also tap into professionals who work with older people in your community. Your local Area Agency on Aging is a good place to start. Learn more about Ohio's Area Agencies on Aging and find out how they can help you.
Determine who and when. Adult children often play different roles within a family. Figure out who your parents might be most receptive to talking with and find a time when there isn’t stress from an event or an illness.
Ease into the conversation. You might break the ice by asking your parent’s advice about organizing important documents. Mention an article you read or another older person who is successfully managing life with the use of technology or services. Remember these conversations may take place over time.
Leave room for choice. Placing demands on your parents or telling them what you think they need to do will usually lead to resentment. Be open to discussing options and listening to everyone’s perspective. Unless your parents have cognitive impairments, remember that they have the right to make their own decisions even if you disagree.
Shift the concern to you. Be open with your concerns. Let them know that the conversation stems from your love and your worry about their safety. By accepting help, they would be easing your fears.
For more tips, tools and resources to help you help your parents go to AARP's Caregiving Resource Center. This comprehensive resource has information to help you hire home care workers, assess assisted living residences and understand and apply for public benefits.
Nicole Duritz, vice president of health at AARP, leads the Association’s member and consumer health education and outreach program, which includes work on issues such as Medicare, new health care law, prescription drug affordability, long term care, prevention and wellness, and wise use of medications.
[Photo courtesy of Rosie O'Beirne\Flickr]