What to Do for Aging Parents

The challenges of caring for our loved ones as they age

Posted Oct 22, 2018

Our population in the United States is rapidly aging. While there are larger cultural implications that come with this fact, for families, this reality means that many of us will become caretakers of our aging parents, grandparents, in-laws, etc. Over the last ten years, there has been a 33% increase of the number of people age 65 or older (Brandon, 2018). While it is possible for us to live longer and be healthier as we age, the fact is that aging comes with unique challenges, and that we will require greater support and be less independent as we grow older.

The research consistently finds that the burden of caring for aging parents or in-laws falls disproportionately on women. In fact, “women provide nearly two-thirds of all elder care and daughters are 28 percent more likely to care for a parent than sons” (as reported by Kimont, 2017, para. 2). Not only that, but women are also far more likely to be caring for an elderly spouse than vice-versa. As one can imagine, in addition to the financial toll that this can take, it also carries significant emotional and psychological weight.

While I am not yet in a position to be the primary caretaker for my own parents, as my father passed the 80 year mark this fall, I find myself reflecting on how our lives will change as he becomes less and less able to take care of himself. While he has the benefit of our mother, who is younger than him and still healthy, I do not want the toll of caring for our father to remain exclusively on her shoulders. What I have experienced so far is that his personality has undergone both subtle and radical changes as he has aged, and it can be very frustrating to relate with him interpersonally.

What can we do to try and maintain closeness with our parents, even as they age and become different versions of themselves? I find myself reflecting on the virtues of both patience, and acceptance. In regards to my own father, in order to maintain a relationship with him I have had to alter my expectations regarding what to expect from him. In particular, he has become more self-centered as he has gotten older, and harder to communicate with when we are in separate places because he is not as comfortable or communicative over the phone than in person. So I call him to check in on him and say hello, but don’t necessarily expect a longer conversation about our lives or what we are doing, the way we would have had when he was younger. This shift is consistent with what researchers have identified, and reframing how we relate to our parents as they age is critical if we are to maintain our bonds with our parents.

Indeed, Meridian Home Care identifies the challenges that come with caring for aging parents, and how a reversal of the traditional parent-child relationship occurs as they get older. For instance, they advise, “it is essential to keep in mind that as you both change, your relationship must also change” (“Coordinating the Relationship,” 2016, para. 3). In regards to patience, as with most things in life, it is one of practice. The more we practice patience, the better we become at navigating the challenges that come from changes we are not fully prepared for. Patience can be a powerful way to demonstrate compassion not only to your aging loved one, but also to yourself as you figure out how to offer support and help to them.

Self-compassion is also a critical piece. Remember to practice self-care and seek out your own support as you navigate the transition to becoming a caretaker for an elderly loved one. While this burden has traditionally and historically fallen on women, this doesn’t always have to be the case. Those of us with brothers and husbands or male partners can also turn to them for support and try to confront how traditional gender norms may be manifesting in our expectations of who will do what for our aging loved ones. If there are ways to develop more equitable divisions of labor, this should be encouraged.

Particularly for our parents, while it is not easy to navigate the challenges that come with their aging, it also offers us a significant opportunity to deepen our bonds with our mothers and fathers while they are still with us. While I find myself experiencing frustration or coping with the fears that come from observing my father grow older, I also find myself seeking out more quality time with him so that I am able to enjoy his company and be a support system for him as well. Because the frustrations or anxieties will come and go, but the opportunity to continue loving and being there for your aging loved ones will last well beyond their time on this earth.

Copyright 2018 Azadeh Aalai

References

Brandon, E. (2018, June 25). The 10 Most Rapidly Aging States. U.S. News & World Report. Retrieved on October 22, 2018 from: https://money.usnews.com/money/retirement/aging/slideshows/most-rapidly-aging-states

Kimont, K. (2017, May 15). Women Provide More Elderly Care Than Men & It’s Taking a Toll. Romper. Retrieved on October 22, 2018 from: https://www.romper.com/p/women-provide-more-elder-care-than-men-its-taking-a-toll-58006

Coordinating the Relationship Between Aging Parents And Adult Children. (2016). Meridian Home Care: Health & Placement. Retrieved on October 22, 2018 from: http://www.meridianhomecare.info/coordinating-relationship-between-aging-parents-and-adult-children

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