Parenting Your Aging Parents

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© Copyright 2011 by Robert Moskowitz

Dear Robert:

My father died recently, and my mother is having a hard time taking care of the house. She’s too frail for yard work and maintenance, of course, but most days she can’t even get herself a solid meal or take her medication. Yet she’s mentally clear and relatively healthy.

I’m afraid that if she lingers on this way, she’ll starve herself to death, or take sick and never recover. Since she can’t live alone anymore, how can I find a nursing home or other safe place for her to live.

Signed, Looking For Mom’s Shangri‑La

Dear Shangri‑La:

I recommend that you not rush out to seek a nursing home for your mother. These days, there are many alternatives for relatively healthy seniors who can no longer live alone. Options include retirement hotels, shared housing, and – for people as healthy as your Mom – assisted living facilities.

Also called “board‑and‑care homes,” “residential care facilities,” or “adult care homes,” they provide a good residence with nutritious meals and even light medical support for aging parents who need less help than a nursing home is designed to offer.

Less strictly regulated than nursing homes, assisted living facilities (or ALFs) can be more personal, individualized, and responsive. To make sure a particular ALF is safe and caring enough for your Mom, talk about it with local social workers, hospital discharge planners, private case managers, clergy and friends. Also, discuss your parent’s needs with the ALF’s directors.

Stroll through the ALF, watching for personalities and features you think your parents will enjoy. Give credit for how helpful, friendly and concerned the staff seem toward the residents. Pay attention to how content and well‑cared‑for the residents appear, as well as how clean, pleasant and comfortable the whole environment seems. You should be concerned if patients seem over‑medicated, dull, isolated, or dirty.

Inspect the ALF for safety features, too. For example, make sure the interior of the ALF is clean, warm, bright and pleasing to the senses. Avoid ALFs with strong odors of medication, disinfectants or air fresheners (heavy scents can mask less desirable smells underneath). Look for safe, well‑lit exteriors, with an outside lawn or terrace residents can easily reach to enjoy sun and fresh air.

Consider the location, too. For your parent’s sake, you’ll want the ALF to be in a safe and relatively quiet neighborhood, close enough that family and friends can visit conveniently.

Dear Robert:

We have been caring for my husband’s father for several years. Although he’s cheerful and cooperative, he needs an increasing amount of help. I cook and clean for him, drive him to doctor appointments, and do his laundry. Dave, my husband, helps his Dad with bill‑paying and managing his CDs and other investments.

Lately, I’ve been getting angry at Dad, at Dave, and at our own children over tiny things that wouldn’t have bothered me before. I don’t want him to die, but sometimes I wish we could get away from our responsibilities for a week or two and take a real vacation again, or just stay at home and relax. Am I selfish for wanting this?

Signed, Worn Out

Dear Worn Out:

No, I don’t think you’re selfish. Caring for aging parents too intensely or for too long can lead to a “burn out” situation, like yours, that leaves you susceptible to foul moods and actual illness. It’s important to remember that you jeopardize your father‑in‑law’s health when you neglect your own.

Make sure you take time to appreciate and enjoy the good parts of your caregiving responsibilities. Focus on whatever gives you satisfaction, so you don’t “burn out” prematurely. Get enough food and sleep. And most important: take advantage of help from outside services or others in the family to find time off from these responsibilities. Perhaps someone will take care of Dad one afternoon a week, or one weekend a month, or more often. Whether they do this regularly, or just once in a while so you can have a family vacation, every bit of help from others lessens the burden on you, and stretches your ability to keep helping your father‑in‑law maintain a satisfactory quality of life.

* * *

To help your aging parents maintain their quality of life, think in terms of becoming like flowing water, which over time can create beautiful formations out of the toughest rocks.

© Copyright 2011 by Robert Moskowitz

Robert Moskowitz is the author of “Parenting Your Aging Parents, How To Protect Their Quality of Life — And Yours!” This 300 page hardcover book has been widely acclaimed as the classic work in the field since 1991. It is available at bookstores, or directly from Key Publications. The Web site is: “http://www.KeyPubs.com/pyapbook.html”. The cost is $21.95 plus $6.95 shipping and handling. If you wish, you can ask Robert Moskowitz your own question for this column by emailing him at: KeyPubs@KeyPubs.com..

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