It can be difficult to acknowledge the fact that your parents may need some help with day-to-day activities in order to stay safe and well as they age. Even more difficult is the realisation that you can no longer be the one to offer the type of attention they need. Broaching the subject of care with elderly parents can be exceptionally difficult but, for many, it is something that has to be done. We spoke to Grainne McCarthy, clinical lead at Elder – an online platform providing high quality live-in care across the UK – for tips.
Decide on a ‘when’
Knowing when to speak to your parents about care can be tricky – should you do this as early as possible or when you are left without another choice? While the answer varies from person to person, there are a few signs that you can keep an eye out for.
“If you notice that their usually tidy house is slightly run down – maybe they haven’t done their laundry, or sorted the mail – then this might mean that they are not managing as well as they used to. Another sign could be that they are displaying unusual behaviour – perhaps they are particularly low for long periods of time, or they get irrationally angry or irate over small things. This could be a sign that their mental capacity is diminishing. Lastly, even if your parent hasn’t lost any of their mental capacity, they might have other health issues that could warrant care.”
Once you decide that you need to talk about care make sure not to delay, especially if the matter is concerning health, as you want your parents to be as happy, cared for and comfortable as possible.
Put yourself in their shoes
Talking about care can be difficult, especially if your parents are very independent. You should try putting yourself in their shoes, as it can be difficult to come to terms with ageing.
“While your parents’ bodies may have aged, it is likely that they think of themselves as quite young and very much able. Additionally, talking about care can be distressing to many parents, as they might assume that this will lead to being in a retirement home, without knowing that there are other options, such as live-in care. When you sit down to talk to your parents about care, make sure that you are holding a discussion, instead of telling them what you think they should do and that you listen to what they are saying to you.”
By working together, you will be able to come up with a solution that works for everyone.
Be clued-up on finances
When it comes to care and finances it is advisable that you properly educate yourself about all the options available, as prices will vary.
“Once you’ve thought about the care options available to you, you should definitely have an open and frank discussion with your parent about finances – they might have set aside money for this exact purpose, or they might need some help from you and your siblings. Either way, the sooner you have this discussion with all the involved parties, the better, as you will be able to pre-empt any situation where you might urgently need to arrange for care.”
A good time to do this shortly after a family event, such as a wedding, trip away or Christmas, as the whole family is together and everyone is able to participate.
Be open and avoid conflict
The most common arguments that arise around caring for elderly parents is thedegree to which they might need care.
“It may be that you feel that they aren’t managing day-to-day tasks, while other members in your family might think that they are fine and simply getting older. Siblings might also argue about the distribution of care, especially if one feels that they are taking on more than the others. The most important thing when it comes to avoiding conflict is to have open channels of communication – speak regularly and openly, involving all the concerned parties as much as possible. If you feel overwhelmed with your responsibilities, make sure to speak up, or offer to help if the situation is reversed.”
Helping each other and being open to adjustments will alleviate a lot of unnecessary tension and make the entire process of caring for your parents much easier. If you are having problems, invite a neutral third-party to mediate and provide expertise – a nurse or a family doctor can provide you with advice and explain the exact level of care needed in your given situation.
Involve and reassure them
It is paramount that you involve your parents as much as possible when thinking of care options. Of course you need to be aware of your budget and the options available, which means that the majority of the research will fall to you, but you can present your parent with a variety of options and leave the choosing to them.
“If they need reassurance, be sure to focus on positives. Getting a carer to move in or help out will allow your parents to do more of the things that they enjoy, as well as keeping their independence. They will still be living the life that they enjoy, without any limitations and without having to worry about the small things that are becoming difficult, such as carrying groceries, cleaning the house or cooking.”
Another good way of reassuring your parents is showing that it isn’t just themthat will be affected – you will worry about them less, as will your siblings, if you know that there is someone to lend a hand whenever needed.
If they refuse to talk…
Ask your parent plenty of questions to understand why they don’t want to accept care. When they respond, make sure that you listen and most importantly, that you acknowledge their feelings and don’t dismiss them.
“Again, it is important to emphasise the fact that there is a great range of oprtions available – that getting even a few hours of care a day can help them enjoy life more and be more independent. It may be that they struggle to understand where you are coming from, and feel like you are overreacting or being overbearing, which is why you should invite a third party to provide advice and perspective.”
A family doctor is a great option, as they will be familiar with your parent and their history and they will also offer impartial advice, flagging issues that they might find concerning.