Only Child? How to Be the Best Caregiver for Your Aging Parent
From the very moment we are born, the bond between a parent and a child is titanium strong — meant never to be broken. Our parents keep us safe from harm until we leave the nest, provide us with all the necessities of life, teach us how to be on our own and never stop considering us their “baby.” Their worry for their children never diminishes, and it never stops.
A role reversal eventually occurs due to the passage of time. The strong father who could chop wood all day long without a break can no longer make it up the stairs unassisted. The mother who made sure we had a comfortable home after working for someone else five days a week no longer has the energy to cook and clean.
We never stop needing our parents. Regardless of how frustrated they would make us, or how uncool we thought they were, our parents were the one constant we could always count on not to change. It can be difficult to open our eyes and see just how much they have changed, and how much they now need us.
No child wants to put their parent into a nursing home. Even when it would be the best decision for the health and well-being of mom and dad, it feels like we are letting them down. Parents often feel shame that if they don’t go into some type of care facility, they will be a stressful burden on their children for staying in their own home.
If you are ready, willing, and able to give your parents the level of care in their own home that they need, good for you — especially when you are an only child! While there are cases when caregivers just feel like only children — sister is too busy with her young kids, older brother lives across the country — only children really need to do some research into what it is going to take to be the best possible person to care for your parent as they age.
Lay it on the line
Many seniors fail to see or admit that they see the signs that they are declining in some way. As an only child caregiver, you must sit down and have an open, honest conversation regarding the concerns you have. Don’t expect flowers and applause. It is more likely that you will be received with denial and anger.
It is vital you have your parents’ attention while you list the signs and symptoms you have witnessed, as well as discussing any known medical issues. Once this conversation is out of the way, with some input from your parent (if they are able), you now can put a plan in motion which will allow them to remain in their beloved home for the foreseeable future.
Back to School
There are numerous courses offered by senior centers and schools on various age-related topics. Common ones include dealing with dementia, seniors and depression, along with proper techniques for bathing and dressing, how to change ostomy bags, etc. You may want to consider taking one or two, especially if you are going to be responsible for giving medications, or you just want to learn as much as possible.
Listen to what they have to say
One of the most important things you can do is listen to what your parent has to say. They have likes, dislikes, pain, fears, and other emotions that can be hard to verbalize. Never make decisions without consulting them unless they are incapable of rendering an opinion.
To make the transition easy for all involved, get your parent talking to you. Not only will things go more smoothly all around, but you may also learn some things about them you never knew.
Keep changes to a minimum
Having you responsible for their care will be a huge change, so don’t force your schedule onto them. You want to keep things as normal as possible, so if they usually have a bath in the morning, get it ready every day at the appropriate time. If they like to join some acquaintances for coffee every afternoon at 2, drop them off while you run some errands.
Provide balanced meals
Part of staying healthy and recovering from illness and injury is eating well. When preparing meals, take extra care to ensure they are getting all the required nutrients. You don’t need to make 5-star meals, but offer plenty of variety that is chock-full of the good stuff.
Installing equipment or making modifications
There are many reasons why your parent may need care. Perhaps they have lost their sight and are unable to navigate easily. Maybe they need to convalesce after major surgery or an extended illness. Or, they may have developed a disease such as Parkinson’s or a form of cancer which leaves them unable to be home alone.
Depending on the reason, you may need to do some modifications inside the home to ensure their safety.
Whether this includes installing rails in the shower or near the toilet, a wheelchair-accessible ramp, or an electric lift on the stairs, these additions will help to make sure your parent goes through the day with fewer obstacles. For parents who require electrical equipment, such as monitors or IV pumps, you may find that some minor electrical adjustments are needed as well.
The type and level of care will vary from parent to parent. There is no “one size fits all” approach. However, you will get tired and frustrated from time to time, and this is no reflection on you. What you need to remember is that you matter, too!
It is critical for your own health and wellness to have some time to yourself. This can simply mean 30 minutes to take a walk, or a few hours to meet up with friends.
When these occasions arise, there is no shame in hiring a professional caregiver to come in and relieve you for a while. You will not be able to do everything yourself 100% of the time. They are trained in the proper care needed, are professional and will give your parent the opportunity to meet and chat with someone new.
Being the best caregiver you can be has no magic answers. What it does have is a tried-and-true recipe that combines knowledge, enthusiasm and patience — all wrapped in a big bow of love.