Caring for elderly parents: what to expect
Caring for your elderly parents can be a trying time. Feros Care offers support by answering some of your difficult questions here.
It can be hard to picture your parents needing help with everyday activities like preparing food or brushing their hair. After all, they’re the people who brought you into the world and did everything for you when you were a helpless infant.
But ageing is inevitable. And the effects of getting older don’t just change your parents’ lives – they can change your life, too.
Caring for your elderly parents can bring a rollercoaster of emotions, from fear and guilt to resentment and isolation. However, with the right support, it can also bring a sense of relief and peace of mind from knowing your parents are in the right place with all their wants covered and everything they need to enjoy their golden years.
Here are some questions you might find yourself asking at each stage of the journey, along with some answers and advice for overcoming each hurdle.
My Parent Needs Light Care from Me
Perhaps your parent’s mobility is slowing down, or maybe their memory isn’t what it used to be. If you’re noticing the early signs that some care is required, you may be asking questions like these.
Does my parent need care?
How do you know when it’s time? It doesn’t have to take a dramatic fall or sudden illness to determine your ageing parent could use a hand here and there – whether it’s a check-in phone call every other day or weekly meals provided.
Yes, it’s an awkward conversation to have, and it can be uncomfortable to even think about. But at the end of the day, your parent’s safety and wellbeing is too important for you to avoid the topic.
Keep an eye out for these signs your parent may require some assistance:
- They’re becoming forgetful or confused;
- They miss appointments;
- They mix up or forget to take medication;
- They struggle to keep their home and/or yard clean;
- They struggle to buy and/or prepare food;
- They’re less interested in things they previously enjoyed;
- They have a change in eating habits;
- They sleep more or have less energy;
- They have difficulty walking, dressing, eating, or bathing.
If you’re particularly concerned that your parent is displaying early signs of dementia, take a look at the warning signs of dementia from Dementia Australia.
How do I ask my ageing parent to stop driving?
Let’s face it – the thought of an ageing parent on the road can make us feel nervous. Whether they’ve recently been involved in an accident or you simply don’t think it’s safe for them to get behind the wheel, taking away your parent’s driver’s licence is never easy.
So how do we know it’s time to ask them to stop driving, and how can we convince them to hand over their keys without thinking we’re the Fun Police?
A medical condition that affects their driving is a common sign it’s time to stop. This might be dementia that affects memory and thinking, or an eye condition – such as macular degeneration or cataracts – that causes impaired vision.
Because our health can decline as we get older, there are strict driving regulations for seniors in Australia depending on where your parent lives.
For example, licenced drivers in New South Wales are required to get annual medical checks when they reach the age of 75. In Western Australia, these annual medical checks are required after the age of 80 years. Down in Tassie, the validity period of licences issued is changed to five years after the driver turns 65.
You can learn more about these regulations in greater depth in this article from the Australian Seniors Insurance Agency.
As for asking your parent to stop driving, there may be no pleasant way around it. If they’ve driven all their life, they’ll likely want to hold onto this independence and freedom. A bit of understanding goes a long way, and taking a gentle approach might include:
- Bringing it up early – If you’re starting to see mild warning signs, don’t wait until it gets worse to spring it on them. Start discussing the issue early to ease them into the idea and allow them to mentally prepare for the inevitable.
- Offering a solution – Your parent may be hesitant to stop driving because they don’t want to give up their bridge game (or whatever they’re into) on the other side of town. Offer an alternative solution to get them where they need to go – whether it’s showing them which bus to catch, offering to be their personal chauffeur, or organising a social transport program.
- Encouraging them to take the tests – If your parent really is unfit to drive, this will show on their medical and/or driving tests. If you can’t convince them it’s time to give up the keys, their test results might help make it easier.
What support is available?
There are government-funded services and financial support programs available depending on your caring arrangements and the needs of your ageing parent.
Services Australia offers more information on financial help for carers of older Australians here.
As well as financial support, you can seek support and advice (or simply someone who gets it) in face-to-face and online communities such as Facebook group Caring for Elderly Parents. You can also get some stress relief at your fingertips with a range of helpful apps.
Be sure to register your ageing parent with My Aged Care as soon as possible, as it can take up to 2 years to get funding for services.
My Parent Needs Significant Care from Me
When your parent requires a greater portion of your time as an informal carer, you can experience new obstacles and stressors.
Their independence declines and your day-to-day is more focused on their needs over your own. It can be a blessing in disguise as you get to spend more time with your parent, but it can also come with some tough times and plenty of questions.
Am I a carer? At what point does what I’m doing qualify me as a carer?
Just how much of your time do you need to spend caring for your elderly parent before you’re considered a carer? When are you eligible for carer allowance?
Some of the eligibility basics include:
- You give extra care to someone who has a disability or severe illness or is frail aged;
- Their care needs score high enough on the ADAT or DCLAD;
- They will have these needs for at least 12 months or the rest of their life;
- You meet an income test.
You can learn more about the eligibility requirements and how to claim carer allowance here.
Will moving my ageing parent in with my family cause tension between my partner and me?
This is a common one. A recent study shows that while almost 20% of people would want their parents to live with them as they grow old, around 60% admit they’re worried about juggling the responsibilities of caring for their own family and caring for ageing parents. Because as much as we love our parents and want to do everything we can for them, many of us also have our own children to look after by the time our parents need care.
If you’re caring for elderly parents under the same roof as your spouse, some added stress and tension is not unusual. To alleviate this, you might like to:
- Confirm a night each week for you and your partner to get out of the house for some quality time together;
- Rearrange or renovate your home so there are multiple living areas (time with your parent is nice, but sometimes you and/or your partner will need some space);
- Manage your own expectations about what the arrangement will be like (e.g. if your parent has dementia, don’t anticipate them to show gratitude as often as you might like);
- Make sure you’re not overloading your partner with added responsibilities and that they understand your reasoning behind your actions while taking care of your ageing parent.
How can I raise my kids and look after my ageing parent?
Raising kids is tough, and caring for an ageing parent is tough. So when you put the two together, things aren’t always black and white. Not to mention, raising kids feels natural, but looking after your ageing parent goes against everything we’ve known since birth. This ‘turn of the tables’ can bring its own challenges.
It’s a juggling act that can leave us feeling anxious and guilty.
Do my kids feel ignored because they’re not getting all my attention?
Am I giving my parent the standard of care they need?
Empowering Parents offers advice for parents raising their children while looking after their ageing parents. Some of these tips include:
- Asking for and accepting help – Keeping kids and parents fed, bathed, healthy, and happy can be a full-on job. There’s no shame in asking for help when you need it – whether it’s from a family member or friend. If that nice neighbour offers to cook a casserole, don’t be too proud to grab onto that life raft and say yes – you’re only human, after all.
- Include your child in the family plan – If you’re concerned your child feels left out or neglected, get them involved in the plans. This will help give them a better understanding of changes within the family, and why your attention is being divided.
- Consider respite – Empowering Parents stresses the importance of respite care for your physical and emotional health. If you need a break, respite care can help you recharge so you can better care for your loved ones – young and old.
How can I deal with my parent’s moods?
Whether it’s apathy, irritability, or aggression, caring for elderly parents can bring a mixed bag of moods to the table. Mood swings and outbursts can be common in the elderly, and if you’re just about ready to have an outburst of your own, remembering these tips might make it easier for you and your parent:
- Don’t take it personally – Whether your ageing parent is sick, in pain, or simply having a bad day, try to understand that their negative emotions and behaviour aren’t about you. Dealing with disease and other complications that come with ageing is no walk in the park, so don’t take it personally if your parent is expressing their frustrations.
- Communication is key – If your parent seems irritable or negative, try asking them why in order to better understand what triggered their emotions. This should come from a place of gentle curiosity and care, not a place of judgement – or this could further aggravate your parent.
- Know when to get help – If your parent is acting out of character, whether it be with social withdrawal or aggressive language, consider consulting their doctor to get a better understanding of what brain and body problems could be affecting their moods.
Where can I get products and services related to caring for my ageing parent?
The right assistive products and safety devices can improve your ageing parent’s quality of life immensely. From emergency-response alarms to anti-tremble utensils, there’s endless gear available to keep your loved one safe and comfortable and give you peace of mind.
You can also access a wide range of wellbeing programs to keep your ageing parent active and social.
What support can I get?
Help is at hand when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Aged care respite gives you a break from your carer duties – without you having to worry that your parent is being neglected.
A few types of respite care include:
- In-home respite – A carer comes to your residential home
- Residential respite – Care provided to your parent within an aged care facility while you recharge
- Centre-based respite – Usually held at a community centre or club and often providing group activities in a social setting.
Research shows carers believe the three main purposes of respite are to give them a break from their caring responsibilities (84%), to give them an opportunity to look after their own health and wellbeing (76%), and to help them sustain their caring role (68%). To put it more simply, respite gives you time to do the things you normally can’t, whether it’s running errands, socialising with friends, or attending counselling or a support group. Doing these things can leave you rejuvenated, so you can be more attentive and patient while caring for your parent.
The Australian Government’s Carer Gateway offers great advice for connecting with other carers in general and specific carer groups.
My Parent Needs In-Home Care from a Professional
It’s OK to admit when your parent requires professional care. Unless you’re personally trained in aged care nursing, there’s a limit to what you can do for your parent – and it’s important to recognise when this time comes. These questions are common as your ageing parent’s need for care increases.
Should I care for my parent full-time when I retire?
Many adult children of ageing parents feel it’s their responsibility to look after their parents when they can’t look after themselves. This subconscious pressure increases if your parent needs care after you yourself have retired. But your involvement in your ageing parent’s care is entirely up to you.
A recent report shows a record increase in senior Australians receiving home care. The number of senior Australians receiving home care packages increased by 20% from 2017-18. And with the average age of a primary carer in Australia at 55 years, it’s no surprise the need for backup is increasing.
In-home care is a great way to ensure your parent is getting the support and attention they require – and you can have some time to enjoy your retirement.
What if my parent with dementia forgets who I am?
Dementia is the single greatest cause of disability in Australians over the age of 65. One of the most common fears among those caring for a parent with dementia at home is that one day they’ll be forgotten.
It’s difficult to watch the cognitive decline in dementia – especially if it means someday becoming unrecognisable to your elderly parent. You may grieve the loss of who your parent used to be, but this doesn’t take away the memory of that person or the relationship you shared.
My Parent Needs Full-Time Care in a Home
It’s easy for guilt to creep in when the time comes for your ageing parent to transition into full-time residential care. But it’s important to remember how this can improve your parent’s health and quality of life.
How can I get my parent to agree to live in a home?
Plenty of people want to live out their last years at home. In fact, over 60% of older Australians strongly prefer to age in their own home. After all, it’s familiar, it’s comfortable, and it usually has great sentimental value.
But sometimes there comes a point when an aged care facility is the best option for their health and safety. It takes a balance of logic and empathy to explain to your ageing parent that this is the case.
A few ways to help make the transition into a home a little smoother might include:
- Hear them out – Ask them why they’re resisting the idea and show understanding.
- Explain your goals – Communicate why you think an aged care facility is the right choice and how it will benefit them.
- Get them involved – Involve them in researching options so they feel they have a say in which residential village is best for them.
I feel uncomfortable visiting my ageing parent. How do I make my visits more comfortable?
You wouldn’t be the first to find visits with your ageing parent uncomfortable or not entirely pleasant.
Katherine Anup PhD, author of “I Don’t Have Time for This!”: A Compassionate Guide to Caring for Your Parents and Yourself, offers these tips for taking a different approach when visiting your ageing parent:
- Stop multi-tasking – Be present. Put down your smartphone and listen to what your parent is saying. Don’t simply drop by on your way to run errands. Commit to quality time with your parent.
- Find ways to engage – Your idea of a fun activity may not suit your ageing parent’s slow-paced lifestyle. Find ways to engage that you can both enjoy, like watching a movie together.
- Silence is OK – You don’t have to fill every lull in conversation. It’s likely your parent enjoys simply having you there and appreciates your company regardless of the conversation.
What activities can I do with my ageing parent that both of us enjoy?
If talking about the weather isn’t your idea of bonding, consider engaging in activities you and your parent can both enjoy. Even if your parent isn’t as able-bodied as they once were, there are plenty of fun activities that can stimulate their mind and leave a smile on their face.
Activities for you and your ageing parent might include:
- Learning a new game – Whether it’s a board game, card game, word game, or puzzle.
- Going for a walk – Walking is a great low-impact exercise and a good way to get outdoors and enjoy some fresh air.
- Cooking or baking – Try a new recipe, or recreate a family favourite.
- Creating your own book club – If your parent is an avid reader, reading the same book at the same time and discussing it is the perfect solo and together activity. If their eyes aren’t what they used to be, they might enjoy having you read to them instead.
- Doing some gardening – Plant some flowers or create a herb garden at home, or head to a local community garden to get your hands dirty.
- Touring a museum or art gallery – A quiet morning at a local museum or art gallery can get your parent out of the house and inspire new topics of conversation.
- Doing a day spa at home – Bust out the cucumber slices and face masks and pamper your parent with a relaxing facial or foot massage.
- Colouring in and painting – Everyone can enjoy dipping a brush in their favourite colours, whatever their skill level. Try colouring-in books and making your own masterpieces from scratch.