Does caring for aging parents have you caught in the middle?

By Valerie
March 12, 2010

Being a parent gives new meaning to the word exhausted. When my three-and-a-half-year-old, falls to the ground after a quick trip to the grocery store and says, “Mommy – my legs won’t work and I’m ‘hausted”, I can’t help but smile inside.

If she only knew! I don’t know about you, but some mornings I actually get tired and stressed just mentally thinking about my day – the lunch making, the getting ready and out the door in the morning, and the shuttling to daycare and/or activities then working six to seven hours, making dinner, cleaning up and bedtime. We haven’t even touched on balancing family time, exercise, cleaning the house, socializing, or raising more than one child.

Throw in caring for an aging parent and it’s easy to see how moms and dads can feel like the ham between two slices of multi grain bread. That is to say, feeling sandwiched between caring for parents and caring for children at home.

Tired yet? Feeling stressed?

Just less than 45% of Canadian caregivers between 45 and 54 years also have children at home. Other characteristics of the Sandwich Generation include being a woman and working part or full-time.

A recent survey by Ipsos Reid of 2,195 Canadians between the ages of 45 and 60, found that 34% of their respondents are currently assisting aging relatives. When asked how caring for aging parents has impacted their lives:

– 66% say it has had some negative impact on their lives
– 31% say they have less time for themselves and their spouses
– 20% have had to take time off work, and
– 19% say that they have been impacted financially.

Survey participants also reported feeling guilty and overwhelmed much of the time. They also got sick and suffered from exhaustion more frequently than non-caregivers. Despite the challenges, more than half (59%) of caregivers say that assisting aging family members has strengthened their relationships.

Watch For The Signs

Take a moment and think about your family. Have you noticed changes in your parent, but you’re not sure it warrants an intervention? Is an aging relative at a stage where they need to move into a residential care facility, but you aren’t sure where to begin?

If you are feeling uncomfortable at this point – relax. You’re in good company. Most families live in denial or expect mom and dad to live forever. When a crisis occurs – be it a broken hip, a stroke or moving to a care home – it’s often a rude awakening.

Be alert and see the clues that your parents need more care than they are willing to admit to. Sometimes it’s subtle changes, such as a house slowly being neglected indicating that your parents aren’t physically able to make repairs. They may not have the mental capacity, or their vision is declining. Lack of attention to personal hygiene is a “red flag” and should be taken seriously.

Here are some things to watch for:

– Difficulty walking, slips, trips and recent falls
– Poor grooming, including soiled clothing
– Loss of appetite, spoiled or outdated food in the fridge and little nutritious food in the house
– Diminished driving skills, including near misses and recent accidents
– Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed and/or reluctance to socialize
– Difficulty concentrating, poor judgment, memory loss, forgetfulness and confusion
– Mishandled medication(s)
– Persistent fatigue and/or lack of energy
– Personality changes, including aggressiveness, irritability and/or sudden mood changes
– Unopened mail, past due bills and mishandled finances
– Poor housekeeping and/or home maintenance.

Be Prepared And Start Planning Now

Acknowledging that your parents need more help is a big step. Getting them to talk about it may be as challenging as putting a cat in a box. The conversation you have with your aging loved ones starts with whether, when and how you take on some or all of their care.

Regardless of how physically and emotionally frail and dependent your parents seem, it’s important to remember that you’re dealing with an adult. Children are typically concerned about the health and safety of their aging loved ones. Your parents, however, are used to independence and autonomy.

More than likely, it won’t be easy for them to accept your involvement in their private affairs and life decisions. Be patient and understanding. Don’t interrogate them, it’s an important conversation aimed at building trust and understanding preferences and needs.

Some Questions To Ask Your Parents

– Will they want or expect a lot of involvement from their children?
– At what point will they ask for help? Or will it be too difficult or uncomfortable for them to seek assistance?
– How do they feel about having a housekeeper or a private care provider coming into their home?
– Do they need help with anything such as preparing meals, running errands or home maintenance?
– How often would they want family to visit? What about daily telephone calls? If they are living alone, would they consider a “Lifeline” system?
– How do they feel about you checking that bills are being paid? What about Power of Attorney and/or Advanced Health Care Directives?
– If at some point they are no longer able to live at home, what kind of living arrangements would they prefer?Living with you? Building a home or moving to be closer to you or other family? Move to an assisted living facility? Residential care?

Start now before the bottom falls out. This conversation will go smoother if it happens before a crisis forces you and family to make decisions on the fly. Emergencies rarely allow families the opportunity for full participation where everyone gets to put in their two cents.

Initiating a conversation now helps you and your parents address present and future concerns, and allows for time to discuss feelings and preferences for care and services.

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“You are amazing! What I tried to do in 2 months, you did in 1 week. You’ve helped us navigate the system, made sense of Mom’s disease, and gave back her independence and control. Thank you for making such a difference in Mom’s life and giving us, her family, complete peace of mind.”

– Mike G., Nanaimo, BC