Caring for Aging Parents: The Challenges and the Rewards

An Aging Parent & Child

Being responsible for the care of an aging parent is not something that most of us envision for our lives, however this is occurring in families on an ever-increasing scale.

A recent article in USA Today reported on a study conducted by the Pew Research Center and the California HealthCare Foundation that found the portion of U.S. adults who are family caregivers jumped from 30 percent in 2010 to 39 percent in 2012. Almost two-thirds of these were grown children caring for their parents or in-laws.

There are a number of factors that contribute to this trend — the main one being, that due to better lifestyles, modern medical practices and available medications, people are living a lot longer than they used to. This is placing a strain on the number of care institutions that are available to house them.

There is also the high cost involved in placing a parent into one of these establishments, and many families cannot afford to pay for this long term.

Apart from this, there are those whose love for their parent, along with their deep sense of family duty, determines that they would rather care for their parent themselves than put them into a home for the aged.

Regardless of the reason, when an aging parent is to be cared for in the home of a grown child, there are few who are prepared for the physical, emotional and financial consequences this brings.

The Emotional Impact of Caring for an Aging Parent

To be the primary caregiver for another human being is a huge undertaking, and this is especially true when a grown child is caring for an aging parent.

To begin with, there is the emotional impact of the changing relationship between the parent and the grown child, whose role has changed from being the cared for to the caregiver. For those who have always looked to their parent for support and guidance, this role reversal can come with a deep sense of loss.

A similar feeling of loss can be felt by the parent, who may find it difficult to adjust to being the one who needs support rather than the one who gives it. Growing old does not take away a person’s pride, nor their wish to remain independent, and many older people will resist being moved out of their home.

 If the situation reaches a crisis point, and the parent has to be moved from their home against their will, it adds further stress to the situation.

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The Medical Side of Things

In addition to the emotional impact of caring for an aging parent, there is the issue of their general health to be considered, and this can be quite complex.

Many people who survive past 65 have chronic or life-limiting medical conditions that require a high level of care. In most cases,  the children who are caring for them  do not have a good understanding of these conditions and the procedures and medications that are available to treat them.

Fortunately, there is a great deal of help to be found on the Internet, and this has proved to be an invaluable tool for many caregivers. This proactive approach to finding out what options are available helps caregivers to make better decisions and gives them the confidence they need to take over the management of their parents’ medications.   

People contemplating this method of gaining information however, should be aware that there are a lot of bogus websites out there. Diligence is needed to ensure that the information they gather comes from a reputable website whose material is up to date and accurate.

When caring for a parent with mesothelioma, for instance, you can trust the Asbestos.com website, which is full of quality, up-to-date information about mesothelioma cancer. Asbestos.com also provides support and necessary resources for people and families who are coping with this disease.

The Physical Impact

An important thing to consider when making the decision to care for an aging parent is their mobility. If they are unable to rise out of a bed or chair, for example, a certain amount of physical lifting may be involved. There is also the consideration of how self-sufficient they are on the toilet and in the shower.  

In all probability, they will at some time in the future need assistance in these areas, and the degree of their independence will determine whether they can be left alone for periods of time. This, in turn, will determine if the caregiver can continue to go to work.

If the caregiver can no longer work due to the needs of the parent, this could put a strain on the financial status of the family.

The Effect on Relationships Within the Household

More often than not, it is a married daughter who becomes the caregiver for an aging parent. Being a wife, mother and a caregiver is a huge undertaking, and somewhere along the line something has to give. Time spent taking care of the parent means less time spent with the partner, and this can cause the relationship to suffer.

If there are children still at home, this further stretches the caregiver’s ability to cope with the situation. As a result, they may become completely overwhelmed, and this is hardly surprising.

No one person should be held responsible for the physical and emotional well-being of everyone in the household. Each family member, including the parent, needs to be made aware of the needs of the caregiver and work together so that the caregiver can also be cared for.

How to Alleviate Stress

An excellent way for caregivers to avoid becoming overwhelmed or stressed is to delegate (assign) tasks to different members of the family. This can easily be achieved by good communication and the drawing up of a chart.

The chart can include not only the inhabitants of the household, but also the other siblings in the family who can come around at specified times to care for the parent while the primary caregiver takes some valuable time out.  

Brothers and sisters of the primary caregiver can also take on other roles, such as driving the parent to doctor’s appointments and being with them when they are having medical procedures.

These are just a few of the things other members of the family can do to help the primary caregiver provide care for the parent, while at the same time running a household and caring for their own well-being.

The Role of the Parent

The parent, too, has a role to play. They need to be aware that the child who is caring for them needs some time alone with their partner, and if possible they should try to accommodate this on a regular basis.

It could be as simple as retiring to their room to watch television after dinner so that the couple can relax and watch a movie together, or allowing for the couple to go out for dinner once a week. Any concerns that a parent may have about something happening in the caregiver’s absence can be alleviated by keeping a mobile phone handy and agreeing to call if necessary.

Allowing for the couple to have special time out together can make a huge difference to the relationship of the couple, as well as their relationship with the parent.

The Rewards of Caring for an Aging Parent

It is a sad reality in this day and age that many of our children are not spending any quality time with their grandparents, and in some cases, they hardly know them. This is robbing the child not only of a wonderful friendship, but also of the opportunity to discover what life was like in the past – from someone who has actually lived it. They, in turn, can share their modern-day marvels and adventures with the grandparent and relish in the sense of wonder this brings.

There is no doubt that caring for an aging parent will bring challenges, but if it can be managed well, it can also bring many rewards — the main one being a sense of fulfillment.

Being willing to have your parent move in with you, however, does not mean that you will feel fulfilled. Some parents may prefer to go into a nursing home, where they will be surrounded by people of their own age and be cared for around the clock without feeling like they have become a burden to the ones they love.

Whether we as their children care for our aging parents in our own home or move them into an establishment that they are comfortable and happy in, we owe it to them to do our absolute best to make sure that they are OK.

If we can ensure that the parents who gave us life have a good journey to the end of their life, no price should be too high to pay.


Lorraine Kember is the author of "Lean on Me," an inspirational personal account of her husband's courageous battle with mesothelioma. She is an accomplished public speaker in Australia and is passionate about sharing her journey with cancer. Her website can be found at www.lean-on-me.net

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