How to Care for Aging Parents: Practical Tips

How to Care for Aging Parents: Practical Tips April 15, 2013

It happens to all of us – if we’re lucky. When you were a newborn, your parents prayed for the chance to make it to old age. They spent the first several decades of their life caring for you.  Until the tables turned a few decades later.

Now as they become aging parents, you are the one caring for them. And with that change can come significant challenges.

For the last seven years, my wife has helped care for her grandparents who were blessed with years well into their nineties. My pre-teen daughters pitched in this past year or so to give a multi-generational boost to their homeschooling efforts. They’ve learned a lot, including the value of caring for aging parents. I’m hoping they’ll need that someday.

They’ve also learned how to be sure you have done all you can to help, so that when it comes time to let go, you can do so with no regrets. My wife’s grandmother preceded us to heaven not long ago. Her grandfather is still going strong.

We’ve learned a few things along the way that might be of help to you. As the kids played UNO with their great-grandmother, for example, they grew accustomed to the fact that they might be better at following the rules than she was at this point. And that’s OK. A knowing look. A gentle smile. And they grew in the art of living graciously.

Some Practical Tips

Here are six keys that our experience has taught us about caring for aging parents and grandparents:

  1. Accept who they are. Sorry. Your parents are pretty set in their ways at this point. It’s not impossible to change at any age, but it sure is harder as we age. Don’t expect them to suddenly alter their life-long habits just because you say so.
  2. Prepare to be inconvenienced. This advice doesn’t fit with our modern cultural norms, but it is what it is. They structured their lives around you for decades. Now it’s your turn to restructure yours. Plan on it.
  3. Get good at observing. Your parents are changing as their physical bodies begin to slow. Don’t assume they can do what they have always done. But don’t assume they can’t. First seek to understand, then to be understood. Now more than ever.
  4. Embrace the power of routines. Your aging parents will find comfort in routines as more of life moves outside of their control. Do all you can to create and preserve effective routines that give some sense of security.
  5. Simplify. Everything. Depending on their mental condition, you may need to revert to basic routines suitable for a child. Even television programming might need to be simplified appropriately. DisneyJr often plays well in our situation. Just be sure to remain respectful, following the golden rule to treat them now as you will want to be treated then.
  6. Flex the rules. You tried to convince them to do this when you were a child remember? “Rules are made to be broken.” Now more than ever, it’s important to be flexible about the little things. The important thing is the time spent together playing UNO, not whether the yellow Skip card just got played on the green Reverse. Or was that the red Draw Two on the — I pity my children someday.

Remember now your Creator in the days of your youth, before the difficult days come, and the years draw near when you say, “I have no pleasure in them.” (Eccl. 12:1)

What other keys have you learned that would be helpful in caring for aging parents? Share your stories and tips with a comment to help us all grow.

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