Lend A Hand: Helping Your Aging Parents
Lend A Hand: Helping Your Aging Parents
October 11, 2023
Even in the best of circumstances, it’s a challenging task that can easily be derailed. If you’re trying to help an aging parent, you know the score. One day things can seem fine yet the next, everything can come crashing down. So even when things are going well, it can be a “fragile stability” you’ve built to support and sustain your loved one. And yet, most of us are willing to help, even at great personal cost to ourselves. A recent survey by The Pew Research Center found that roughly ⅔ of all US adults believe that grown children should have a great deal or fair amount of responsibility to provide caregiving support to an elderly parent who needs help. A majority also stated that adult children have a great deal or fair amount of responsibility to provide financial assistance to an older parent. These views were especially prominent among Black respondents to the survey as well as respondents who were over 50. So while a significant proportion of us endorse the concept of providing physical and financial support to our older loved ones, that doesn’t mean it’s always smooth sailing.
Of course, before you provide help, it’s probably wise to understand your aging parent’s situation: What are his or her finances? What physical or cognitive limitations does she or he have? What plans and documents, if any, are already in place? What resources are available in the community to provide help? What preferences does your parent have regarding living arrangements or health care decisions? These are, of course, obvious questions, yet in all likelihood much of this information may be unknown when someone commits to being a caregiver for an aging parent. Conversations about these issues are essential for building a successful and productive caregiving relationship. NPR recently published a “Life Kit” on how to discuss financial, legal, and healthcare issues with your aging parent. These can be delicate conversations, given that older parents are often trying to maintain a measure of autonomy and independence even in the midst of needing help. A recent post from Katie Couric Media advises that happy endings are possible with these sorts of conversations if trust and good communication exist.
But creating good communication and workable plans is not always easy, especially if you are trying to do family caregiving from afar or have a parent who’s not always acting rationally. A valuable source of help in this regard is the website Better Health While Aging, developed by geriatrician Dr. Leslie Kernisan. She provides resources for both older adults and the adult children who support them, through online courses, question-and-answer sessions offering concrete advice, and a book she recently published (When Your Aging Parent Needs Help). She recently updated a post on Things To Try When Your Parent Seems Irrational, recognizing that possible cognitive impairment or irrational thinking requires involved caregivers to respond in sensitive and nuanced ways. She also suggests that online caregiving forums, such as AgingCare.com can be a source of information and support when an adult child faces a challenging caregiving task or recalcitrant aging parent.
Judith Graham from Kaiser Health News also has an interesting post on the challenge of communicating and working with a resistant aging parent in need of help. Graham suggests that negotiation skills from the business world may be useful when dealing with an older parent who’s uncooperative. If the goal is to minimize conflict and foster a supportive relationship, Graham reports on a new program at Northwestern University that’s creating a curriculum for professional caregivers and involved family to practice their “negotiating skills” with different caregiving scenarios. The communication skills practiced include being prepared by understanding the perspective of all involved, identifying common interests where cooperation can be found, asking open-ended questions to elicit communication and ensure your aging parent feels heard and respected and, if needed, bringing in a third neutral party who has no emotional stake in the outcome. All of these strategies underscore that developing caregiving plans and strategies for your loved ones may be a challenge, but with time, patience, and perseverance results can be achieved that will both respect your loved ones and preserve your sanity. No one said caregiving for an aging parent is easy but most of us believe the challenge is worth the effort.