Caring for aging parents or relatives can be both rewarding and challenging. There is certainly a lot of preparation and conversation that needs to happen along the way. If your older parent is living alone, younger family members can sometimes feel the need to offer constant attention and care. However, an aging relative may not feel the same way or, worse, might think they're only being a burden.
This issue presents many challenges. Who cares for the older loved one -- and when? Even if Mom or Dad wants to stay at home or move in with you, some conditions warrant help from an assisted-living facility. What are the factors you should consider that go beyond diagnoses and treatment plans?
Here are three key questions to pose to your whole family before you decide how to care for your aging loved one:
1. What Is Your Relationship Like?
Having your aging parents move in can present some really incredible opportunities for you and your children to bond with them. However, the potential stress and frustration involved could upset your new housemates in a way that creates constant tension. Ask yourself: How well do you, and your family members, handle conflicts? If taking your parents into your home will make you both miserable, it may not be the best option. Also consider that certain conditions -- whether physical or mental -- can dramatically affect your relative's personality. Would you be able to deal with that in a loving and patient way?
2. How Much Help Can You Realistically Provide?
When we're not actually involved in a situation, it's nearly impossible to accurately judge how well-equipped we are to handle it. You need to honestly consider your own situation and what sort of care your aging loved ones need. Will you be able to administer medications, manage doctors' appointments, and deal with insurance companies? What about your work schedule? After caring for your own responsibilities, will you have the time and energy to care for your parents when you come home? If your relative's condition worsens over time, will you be able to adapt?
All too often, caregivers tend to ignore their own needs in these situations. Many health organizations are beginning to recognize a condition called caregiver stress syndrome, which results from devoting time and effort to caring for an aging parent or relative. Thus, you'll need to be cognizant of your own self-care.
3. Do You Have a Support System in Place?
How do your spouse and children feel about the decision? Will they be able to provide help if your relative moves into your home? If the move means a loss of space and/or privacy, how will the family react? Young children are often very caring with older family members and may be able to provide some lighthearted relief. At times, though, the reality of the situation may force you to explain some very difficult topics to your children. Are you prepared for that? How will your children react when things become difficult? In addition to those in your household, other family members will likely have some opinions when it comes to taking care of an aging parent. Will your siblings or other family members be able to provide any help?
As you can see, so many questions come up when it gets down to making a final decision. You want to do what's best for your aging relative while incorporating their own viewpoint and desires. At the same time, you need to think of yourself and the people under your own roof. Consider all the options and possibilities, and most importantly talk to your loved one about their wishes, and you'll be that much closer to making the right choice for everyone involved.