When Your Parents Age

What do you do when your parents are aging.  They are doing it right in front of you and you can’t stop it.  It can take a toll on you and them.  Now not only do you have your children, grandchildren that depend on you, you now have a dependent parent.  It can be overwhelming at times.  My sister and I were talking last year about how our mother was declining both physically and at times mentally.  We had tried to encourage her and my stepfather to move closer to one of us.  It went to no avail, they had friends and a church that they enjoyed.  Not even a week after my sister and I were talking about my mom, I got a frantic phone call from my sister, it was April 1st.  She didn’t sound like she was in a very joking mood, she said mom’s gone, I replied “gone where”.  It was no joke, my mom died at the age of 78 trying to mow her yard, I know when it is your time, it’s your time, but a part of me thinks well if she lived here I would have done her yard or had someone to do it.  At least she was doing what she loved, working in her yard.  The question us kids raised repeatedly was “what if they only lived closer, what if we really knew how her health was ( she had a way of sugarcoating everything)what if…what if.  We pretty much all stated our lives were pretty crazy at this point, how would we have been able to care for her too.   I had suggested an assisted living to them a few years back but they were pretty independent and wanted to hear nothing more about it.  So subject was dropped.  She was pretty much was of a sound mind but there times she would get really forgetful and repeat stories until you had them memorized.  But she was my mom and sometimes just the sound of her voice would brighten my day.

I have been a nurse for 32 years mainly doing long term care and rehab.  I thought i was ready for the day when we would have to place her in a nursing home.  I knew what to look for when visiting a nursing home.  I made a list of all the things to observe while visiting.  It went something like this:                                                                                                                                                     1.  Be aware, does staff address or greet you, or do they ignore you?  Does the staff seem stressed out?  Do they seem to have enough staff?  Are the the state survey results posted ?  Are the resident’s rights posted for residents and family to see?  Is the number for the ombudsman posted and easily located?  Look up reviews online before committing to certain nursing home.

2.  Utilize your senses.  How did it smell?  How did it smell as you went onto the actual floors?  What did you hear?  Was there a lot of screaming from other residents?  What did you see?  Did other residents look clean and well kept or did they look dirty and disheveled?  Do the residents seem happy and content, or angry and scared?

3.  You are your parent’s voice …use it…you are their advocate.  If something does not seem right, question it.  Don’t scream and holler over every little thing, but develop a good communication with your  parent’s caregivers, teach the caregivers how your parent may like or dislike things.

These are a few of my main things that I would be doing, had we got that far with my mom.   Some people may opt to take care of them at home.  As noble as that is, make sure you can juggle everything and still take care of you.  It sounds easy but it is not especially if you work full-time and are raising an active family.  We kept my husband’s mother for 19 years.  It was very hard on all of us, from the children on up to her.  Every vacation we took she went with us ( we never had a break from each other).  One time when she was hospitalized from a mini-stroke, we decided we all would go to church.  That was the first Sunday service my husband, I, and our 5 children all got to sit together and attend service.  We would usually switch off because somebody had to be home with his mom at all times.  I am not sure how we made it thru those years, but we did.  If you plan on keeping your parent at home, make sure you have back-up caregivers, if even for just a dinner out with friends.  I also suggest you join a support group.  They are out there to help you feel like you are not doing this alone.

Our aging parents are there depending on us for their basic needs from companionship to actual hands on medical needs.  They have given us life and taught us to be the fine adult we are today.  Many of our parents are living history papers just waiting to be wrote.  They could tell us stories from the “Great Depression”, the “World Wars”, just how life was “back in the day”.   They are our genetic history as to who carries on Grandpa’s bright blue eyes, or Grandma’s dimples.  They at one would have done anything for us..now it is our chance to be able to give it back to them.  Whatever you choose to be the perfect answer I just ask that you consider all the possibilities.  And above all please take care of yourself.



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