10 Tips While Helping Aging Parents
1. Getting old is financially scary
No matter how much money one may have, thinking about covering the expenses associated with aging or dealing with the unknown can be extremely scary. What if your elderly parent doesn’t have enough insurance or savings to pay for long term care or a terminal illness such as cancer? Talking to a qualified professional to make sure any possible expenses are covered can be vital. If you need help finding retirement or eldercare services, the National Care Planning Council provides a free referral service of various senior services in your area.
2. Talking about changes in life is extremely hard
Talking about moving (whether to downsize or to a find a care facility), losing the ability to drive, or having to budget can be hard subjects for an aging parent to face (actually having to plan for it can be even more overwhelming). Taking small steps with a goal in mind can be very helpful. Writing down every step needed and crossing them off as goals are met can make it easier to complete each step, even if it seems to make the list of tasks to complete even longer. Meeting with a financial planner, placement manager, or insurance professional can be the first step to creating these lists.
3. Aging parents are often in denial
Adjusting to circumstances caused by aging can cause a lapse of judgment including denial. Thinking about possible illness, moving, finances, and mortality can be overwhelming. To an aging parent, they may think they have many years ahead of them to complete goals, spend time with grandchildren, and plan for long term care. Remind them that it is in their best interest and the interest of family that they plan. It will also help them reach their goals of possibly traveling, early retirement, retirement in general, buying a vacation home, etc. Early planning will ensure their needs, wants and desires are fulfilled without interference from family or the government. Broach any topic lightheartedly and with ease, this may help an aging parent feel non-threatened and elevate the denial they may feel.
4. Asking for help or even thinking about it can be overwhelming
There are certain things no one wants to lose no matter how old they are. No one wants to hear that they cannot drive, they shouldn’t live in their home by themselves or that they cannot perform tasks that many people their age and/or older may be able to fulfill without issue. Many people don’t realize how important their freedom is until they lose it or when the loss is eminent. Assisting your aging parent as they lose one freedom to the next can be hard, they may not see that the new-adjusted lifestyle chosen for them is a good one. But helping them put it into perspective by showing them how much they are cared for and how you are concerned for their health and safety will certainly help.
5. Aging Parents may need a little help but may not ask or may not remember everything
It’s often hard for parents to ask for help or even admit they need it. Focus on paying attention to the aging parent, most needs can simply be observed. Does the parent struggle in certain tasks? Is there something you can do to help the aging parent without them asking? Can asking indirect questions lead to an answer? Even asking directly “Mom, was there something you needed help with? Memory can start to diminish for some as young as 20, though it may not be noticeable until later years.  You can play simple games with an aging parent to help keep their mind sharp. AARP has some fun-simple games made specifically for seniors.
6. Patience is key
Transitioning into new phases of life can be hard. Please be patient with your aging parents. Remember they were patient with you when you were learning to walk, talk, eat with your mouth closed, and so much more.
7. Don’t talk about death
This is another sensitive issue that you should be very careful with. Many times aging parents feel shock when hearing and/or even thinking about their own death even if they have come to terms with it. Some words to use instead of death: Passing, End of Life, Parting.
8. There are public benefits available
Many families and aging parents are unaware of resources and help available from Senior Community Centers, Senior Services Departments (aka senior aging departments), Medicaid and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). You can find Elder Care and Long Term Care Resources and Reference Materials for help in your state or read about Medicaid Planning or VA Benefits.
9. Plan for the worst, hope for the best
When planning with an aging parent, gracefully plan for worst case scenarios, such as needing an estate plan, power of attorney, or financing for long term care from a facility or a family member. Planning early can help relieve possible stresses which may happen. Approach the subject with a light touch. An experienced Elder Law Attorney, Medicaid Planner, or an individual accredited by the VA to help senior veterans can be very useful in these scenarios. As much of the family should be involved in planning for cases were a family member will be a caregiver. Consider which responsibilities can be shared in cases of multiple siblings and strive to avoid overwhelming the main caregiver with too many tasks.
10. Being social
Losing a spouse or loved one, freedoms, and/or coping with financial issues can isolate an aging parent. Being social can help aging parents better deal with life’s changes. Talking with other’s their own age or in their own situations can be extremely helpful. Senior community centers and Adult Day Services offer social activities as wells as clubs like the VFW, Eagles, BPOE, and church groups were aging parents can develop friendships and other relationships. Doing a Google search for clubs like these will help you find places that can offer positive social interactions for your aging loved ones.