The child/parent relationship is a constantly moving dynamic. When you were small, they cared for your needs. As you grew into adolescence they worried over you while trying to get you ready for independence. As you launched into the world beyond their home, they let you go, perhaps with tears, perhaps with a sigh of relief. But as time passes and they grow older, the burden of care can shift, this time to the child. This process is fraught with emotion on both sides. Meanwhile, difficult decisions must be made to ensure the ongoing care and wellbeing of parents as they age.
Tarja Williams is facing such a change, having been the primary caregiver for her mother for the past several years.
“I’m the only child who has that kind of relationship with her, so she has followed me each time my family has moved,” she said. “I have taught myself how to acquire benefits for her. The situation has progressively changed in the amount of assistance she’s needed since her first stroke seven years ago. For a while, Mom was in her own apartment with in-home care three to four hours a day to make sure she was fed and clean. After her second stroke, she needed care 24/7. She’s been living with me for the last year and a half, but now we are looking to transition her into a care facility.”
Williams has run the gamut of the available options for her mother over the past few years, which has necessitated an ongoing discussion about needs, along with the examination of financial resources to determine how to best use them.
Aging in place
There are a number of options that will allow aging parents to remain in their own home as they age.
Diana Reed, owner of MLS Senior Care Agency in Grand Junction, said, “Sometimes, if they live on their own, they need companionship or help getting out to do errands, maybe light housekeeping and cooking, maybe help getting bathed and dressed. This is considered unskilled home care. In some cases, caregivers—often the child or spouse—just need a break for a few hours. In other cases, they may need to go to work but don’t want their parent alone all day. We come in once or twice during the day to make sure the client is fed, can get to the bathroom,
or even to just sit and talk. I can hear the same stories over and over and not get impatient with them.”
If skilled nursing care is needed, Reed’s agency will work with nurses, letting them know anything they observe and following up on their instructions. This way, the clients receive the skilled nursing care they need, along with unskilled care.
When choosing to stay at home, it’s important to keep home safety in mind.
“We check the home for things like throw rugs and how long the house key has been under the mat outside,” said Reed.
Once in-home care is no longer meeting an aging parent’s needs, the next step is assisted living. In Grand Junction, Hilltop provides a continuum of care, from individual cottages to assisted options for residents who require greater amounts of care.
“Once they are unable to manage the activities of daily living, including their medications, they would be transitioned to the main building,” said Meghan Nedvecki, assistant director of The Commons of Hilltop. “Medical services and meals are provided there, with higher staffing ratios. They can still go out on activities, but we are more involved in their daily care.”
The importance of family
Even when a parent is in a facility, his or her children are critical to the wellbeing of their aging parents.
“Both of my parents are in memory care,” said Barb Napoletano. “It still takes so much time, even in a full-care facility. [One of my mother’s children] is there every day or every other day. The caregivers are angels, but she needs family to stay on top of things. It’s difficult watching her decline, but at least all of my siblings have been very supportive of each other. The nurses tell us our family is unusual in how well we work together on my mom’s care.”
Unfortunately, that’s not the case with Williams’ family.
“My siblings are uninvolved,” she said. “It’s not easy to talk to them about Mom’s care. It’s all tied up in stepfamily issues and inheritance and other complications.”
Williams wants to preserve her mother’s dignity while she contemplates the next step in her care.
“She said she didn’t feel like an old person and didn’t want to hang out with old people. We have to do something, though, to ease the stress for my husband and me. Putting her in a facility feels like giving up, but we are older and more exhausted,” she said.
Working in concert with a caregiving agency, skilled nursing care and assisted living staff can ease the stressful decisions regarding care of aging parents.
“Be mindful of changing needs and stay open to adjustments,” said Reed.
While caring for aging parents will take time and commitment, it can also be rewarding to those who lovingly navigate the difficult decisions, allowing aging parents to retain their dignity with as much independence as possible, each step of the way..