The concept of getting older and aging is one that most people often think about in an abstract manner. It’s more of an idea, painted in broad strokes. We hold on to the notion that our parents are strong, healthy, independent and well-abled for as long as we possibly can. We spent our childhood being raised by them, our early adulthood being supported and cheered on by them, and our late adulthood seeing them transition gracefully into the oh-so-fun grandparent stage. What we often don’t visualize in 4k HD is how the later chapters in that “grandparent/great grandparent stage” looks like in real-time.
For most families, the task of trying to figure out the best-case-care-scenario for their aging loved one comes out of left field. Yes, the idea that your mother and father are getting older and possibly more feeble with each passing year is always present (somewhere) in your mind, but oftentimes, life gets in the way. We often romanticize this era and get so caught up in our own day-to-day (work, child-rearing, our own health issues), that we may miss the clues along the way that signal to the reality that the person we once regarded as our primary caregiver may now be in a position to be on the receiving end of our care.
For those who have “healthy” parents with no major health conditions or decline in cognitive functioning, understanding the challenges of an elderly person living on their own (or with an equally elderly spouse), and realizing they may need more hands-on care may not happen unless you’re on the other side of a fall that results in a broken hip or head injury. Or perhaps the past couple of months/years have been filled with you worrying and/or nagging your loved one on ways to stay safe and continue to be healthy. Or perhaps you have taken on the role of main caregiver for your aging parent and have felt the burden and stress of having to care for them while also caring for your own family’s needs, thereby causing major strain or resentment in your relationship.
Whatever the situation, as your loved one ages, there will come a point in the road where a decision needs to be made: What is the best way to take care of my mom or dad? Is it having him/her “age in place” and taking extra measures to make sure he/she is alright (i.e. hire a caregiver for a few hours, check in more often, etc.). Is it moving him/her into your own home? Should you put him/her in a big assisted living community? What about a board and care nearby? Perhaps you’ve already tried one or more of the aforementioned options. Alternatively, maybe you didn’t know a change needed to be made until the doctor at the hospital told you your loved one cannot be discharged from the hospital until new and safer living arrangements were made.
Whichever option you ultimately decide is best, one of the most important deciding factors is this: How much is having peace of mind worth?
There is so much to be said about the value of having peace of mind. Not having to worry about whether your loved one remembered to take his/her medication or turned off the stove or whether he/she sustained a fall and was able to get help right away is an incredible burden that’s lifted. Or not having to stress about whether your loved one is eating the right food or bathing regularly or is possibly feeling lonely and afraid is paramount to increasing overall wellness and quality of life for everyone involved.
Wouldn't it be nice to just enjoy quality time over a lovely meal and not have to worry or nag one another?
In addition to understanding the value of having peace of mind, another important conclusion that needs to be made is accepting the idea that “caring” for your loved one sometimes means finding someone else to be the one providing the direct care. Familial or cultural pressures may frown upon going outside of the family to carry out the day-to-day care and supervision, however, continuing to pursue a certain kind of dynamic with your aging parent may only cause strain and resentment. Making the tough decision to go outside of your home for the care of your parent can pave the way for a more loving and fruitful time in your lives where your conversations aren’t bogged down with worries or riddled with nagging reminders, but rather, the relationship shifts towards quality time spent enjoying one another’s company, reflecting on fond memories or creating new ones.
While personal clarity is something you’ve been able to attain after much thought and reflection, getting your loved one to also be on board with what you have in mind is a whole other process. In part 2 of our 3-part series, we will delve into what that process entails and we’ll discuss creative ways you can communicate how the next chapter of your loved one's life might look like. And later, in the last part of our series, we will introduce some options for care for you to consider with your loved one. While deciding the best course of action in maintaining the health and well-being of the elderly person in your life is a complicated one, being well-informed on the various options available to you is vital. The sooner you are able to plan and tackle on the nuances that go into this decision, the better. It’s harder to feel good about a decision knowing you had to make it out of haste or because you were up against a deadline (i.e. your mom needs to be discharged from the hospital in 2 days and she is not able to care for herself independently at home anymore.)
Sticking your head in the sand may only put you and your loved ones at a disadvantage. As they say, “hope is not a strategy”. Taking the time to truly communicate, plan and weigh all the options is one of the best ways you can care for your loved one. So if you're ready to take the next steps on this complex journey, check out Part 2 of The Journey Series here.