Dear Candid Caregiver: My parents are both in their late 70s and doing quite well but I see that the need for making decisions about their futures, or at least gathering information, is closing in. We live in the same community, so my husband and I have been helping with some minor things around their home, but they are very independent and hire out the most difficult jobs.
However, with time, I know that more help from us will be necessary. When do I consider myself their caregiver? How do I begin? What do I need to know? – Potential Newbie
Dear PN: You are smart to consider these questions now since there’s time to create a plan with your parents’ input. Most people are limited caregivers long before they even consider this question and this is true in your case.
From your note, I gather that you’ve at least been “on call” for quite some time, and you and your husband have been available for some chores at the very least. However, you also show respect for your parents’ independence and I applaud you for that.
It’s far too easy for worried adult children to barrel in and try to take over their parents’ lives at the first sign of any difficulty. All this does is create resentment and make future issues harder to deal with, so you’re off to a good start. In other words, you have already begun your caregiving journey in a good way.
Below, are a few guidelines for basic information, but I hope that you will continue to follow this column because as time goes on you’ll find answers to questions that you didn’t even know you had. This is how you grow as a caregiver and a person. It’s all part of the process.
- First, accept this as truth: There is no such thing as a perfect caregiver or care partner (a term you will start seeing more frequently). We are all unique human beings and no matter how hard we try we cannot always know the best approach to every situation regarding another person. All we can do is our best with the circumstances and information that we have.
Don’t become a dumping ground for unearned guilt. There are few caregivers who don’t carry around guilt. It’s an occupational hazard. However, most of that guilt is unearned. If you understand that, you’ll be a healthier and more effective caregiver.
Acknowledge and accept your parents’ right to independence and dignity. Sometimes that’s hard to do when we know that we could complete a task more easily and quickly than our parents. We also may be tempted to discourage them from performing a task or taking part in some recreation or hobby because it involves a certain amount of risk.
However, attempting to surround your parents in bubble wrap to keep them safe will either make them resistant to asking for help of any kind in the future or else make them so miserable that they give up. Respect their dignity.
- Discuss the next steps with your parents over time. You are fortunate to have relatively healthy parents for now and you are wise enough to know that a conversation is needed because waiting for a crisis is never helpful. Most likely many conversations will be needed over time because you want to go about this in a careful, loving manner. Ideally, these conversations should be interwoven with chats about daily life so that the topic of their future becomes a natural part of conversing right along with their latest outing with friends.
During these talks, you will want to cover legal and financial documents. If they haven’t gotten this far, or if they haven’t updated them in a while, that should be done soon.
You will want to cover potential living situations including first choices, which may be aging in place or a move to a retirement community, as well as secondary choices which may include assisted living or even, eventually, a nursing home.
From what you’ve written, I think that these two articles will address many of your questions about how to begin.
Please feel free to write back and let us know how you are doing.
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