It’s not just you noticing the changes. If you’re realizing that your aging parents need a little more help around the home, they probably realize the same thing. The housework is getting tougher, there's more medication to manage and day-to-day tasks are more laborious. You love them and want to support them, but there is a fine line to walk between offering help and suffocating them. Communication is critical: Your concern only comes from a place of love and deep down your parents know that. These tips can ensure your parents realize that.
Treat Them Like Adults
An easy way to upset your senior loved ones is to treat them like they’re children. “Quizzing them constantly is counterproductive,” warns Debra Desrosiers, a professional caregiver with more than 10 years of experience. "It can get to the point where it's like we're trying to quiz our kids about what happened at school. What did you have for lunch? Did you take your medicine? Have you been grocery shopping?" Although they are getting older and they need a little more help than they once did, they're still adults, and making sure they feel like they are in charge of their own life is essential. Their independence is something they treasure; Talk to them frankly and ask their preferences.
A recent study showed that while seniors are fiercely protective of their autonomy, they do want help from their children when it’s needed. The challenge for you is finding a way to balance both.
Be Wary of Continual Assessment
In a recent article from The Atlantic, an aging parent talks about what she and her elderly peers need from their children. She describes one elderly friend’s frustration at feeling like her daughter is continually assessing her. This behavior only makes aging parents self-conscious – and insecure – of their evolving needs. If your mom is worried about memory loss, constantly testing her may only worry her more, and that’s important. Studies show that seniors with high self-esteem have fewer health problems, so constant nit-picking could be doing real damage.
Look for Yourself
One way to avoid badgering your parents with too many questions is to monitor for yourself. “Instead of constantly asking what they need, observe and look for clues.” If you think they may be struggling to shop, ask to make a snack and see what’s in the fridge. Are the contents expired? If you are worried that housework is a problem, look for dirty dishes and signs of neglected chores. Don't make it obvious, or make your parent feel like you are constantly checking in. Debra believes that this can often be the fastest way to get answers.“Slow down. Observe. Then interact with them.”
Protect Your Relationship
As your relationship with your parents inverts, be sure not to spoil the parent-child relationship that you all treasure. A study at Penn State revealed that three-quarters of adult children found their elderly parents stubborn. Two-thirds of elderly parents found their children equally frustrating.
If your presence stresses your mom out, neither of you are likely to be enjoying that relationship. Not only that, if being around you makes her feel bad, she’ll look for excuses not to spend time with you. Everyone's relationship with their parent is unique, so be sure to understand your own thoroughly. If too much time with your parent stresses both you and her out, it's probably time to consider an alternative option for helping Mom at home.
Talk About Future Options
Although your parents might be aware that they need a little more help, they may be afraid to show it. “Many elderly people still think of professional care as them being made to leave their home and shipped off to a home,” warns Debra. “They aren’t aware that we have many more options now, including in-home care. They’re often scared and reluctant to show when they need help.”
Your parents may think they’ll lose all independence. Talk to them early about what they might need in the future and what options they have. Let them know that you are on their side and will support them to continue living at home as long as possible, and be realistic about the help they may need to keep doing that and talk about their preferences.
Introduce Care Gently
It's common for seniors to need some help with housework, and it may be easier for your loved one to accept that help than it would be to admit that they need in-home care. A professional caregiver is an effective solution. Your parents are getting the help they need and the caregiver can be your second set of eyes, watching out for the little signs that maybe they need more help for which they are asking. “It’s what we did with my grandfather,” Debra said. “As a Christmas present, I got him a couple of hours of help with housework from a professional caregiver. He was very independent but having someone help with cleaning was acceptable to him.”
The caregiver would visit, help with cleaning and, when she had time, sit and have a coffee with Debra's grandfather. Every time she visited she was building a relationship. "When he needed a little more help, that relationship was already there. She was someone he was very comfortable with, so when we suggested that she come around a little more, he was very happy with the situation."
For more advice on how seeking home care early could help your senior loved one, read this article.