A Child’s Guide to Helping Senior Parents Age

As your parents enter the senior years of their lives, the transition can be difficult not only for them, but for you too as their offspring. This reversal in which you take on more of a caregiver’s role will be strange for everyone to acclimate to, but you can still help make this stage of life both comfortable and secure for your parents.   

According to a AARP survey, in 2020, the number of adults in the U.S. who acted as caregivers to recipients over the age of 50 increased to nearly 42 million. But as the data also pointed out, this dynamic can lead to mental, emotional, financial and relational strain for both the caregiver and recipient. This is why it’s beneficial to discuss logistics and make a plan together on the front end; communication and collaboration are always ideal.

Human beings want independence—and senior adults, of course, are no exception. The trick is to find a realistic balance between respecting their personal autonomy and knowing when to step in with practical assistance. Below are some ways to come alongside your parents and start easing them into this new transition in the relationship.    

Ask Where They Need Help and Support. 

Start the conversation by including your parents in their own needs assessment. Ask them to share with you what kind of assistance is actually helpful and what feels like an intrusion of their boundaries. You don’t want to disempower them or take away a sense of control over their own lives, so listen to your parents and honor their wishes. 

These areas of need will also shift with time, so plan to revisit this discussion periodically to make adjustments and communicate why those changes are in their best interest. For example, in the earlier stages of this process, your parents might just need you for the basics such as driving them to doctor’s appointments and providing them with social interaction. But as they continue to age, your role could become more hands-on with tasks such as meal preparation, mobility assistance, or dressing and personal hygiene. 

Set Up the Home for Safety and Mobility.

Whether your parents choose to move in with you or remain in their own house, make sure the space is configured to optimize both safety and mobility for them. The World Health Organization notes that falls in the home are the second leading cause of unintentional injury deaths, and senior adults are among the most vulnerable to these injuries.   

However, simple modifications to the living space can decease your parents’ risk of falling and ensure they can move around with relative ease and support. Here are some DIY solutions to make all rooms in the house safer for your parents to navigate. 

  • Remove all clutter from the floor, so their walkways are not obstructed. Secure electrical cords flush against the wall, and only area rugs if they are slip-resistant. 
  • Keep all dishware, utensils and appliances within easy access. Eliminate the need for using step-stools or bending low in the kitchen. Move sharp objects out of reach if your parents begin to exhibit symptoms of cognitive decline. 
  • Install grab bars in the bathrooms and on stair railings to help them maintain balance. If the home has two stories, ensure their bedroom is on the ground level.
  • Optimize all light fixtures, so that each room in the house is bright and visible, and the on-off switches are accessible without help.  

Review the Financial Situation Together.

Another area of planning to include your parents in is their financial affairs. Growing older costs money, so there are numerous costs to think about. Healthcare (e.g. doctor visits, medications, equipment, and surgeries or procedures), home safety modifications, insurance policies, basic daily needs (e.g. food, clothing and personal items), transportation and long-term residential solutions are some of the main expenses you’ll need to account for. 

Invite your parents to sit down with you and evaluate together how much you all can afford to spend on these necessities given their current finances. Determine how much they’ve been able to save through retirement plans and investment portfolios, then calculate how much they will have to subsidize with federal programs such as Medicaid. Also, consider meeting with an elder law attorney or financial advisor to help with the money decisions.      

Look into Their Options for Memory Care.

If you start to notice behaviors associated with the onset of Alzheimer’s or dementia, it might be time to explore memory care services and facilities for your parents. Cognitive decline is not only a source of fear and frustration for them, but it can also take an emotional toll on you which could result in caregiver burnout. This is where memory care options come in—to share the load with you and offer high-quality treatment to your parents. 

When choosing a memory care solution, there are obvious factors to think about such as the expense, location, resources, interventions and amenities. But even more importantly, you want to find the option that will make your parents feel most comfortable and provide them with a sense of community. Here are some memory care program considerations to look for:

  • Involves family members in planning and decision making
  • Updates family members on changes in treatment protocol or living situation
  • Offers medical attention onsite, and has staff trained in dementia or Alzheimer’s care
  • Assists with hygiene care, provides nutritious, varied meals, and tailors onsite amenities to each resident’s diet, interests, abilities and other needs
  • Plans social activities for residents to participate in on weekends, evenings and holidays
  • Ensures the facility is clean, safe and well-maintained 
  • Has many visiting hour options for family members to choose from
  • Provides off-site transportation for residents when necessary
  • Facilitates religious services and celebrations (or offers transport to those services) 
  • Treats all residents with dignity, respect and personalized attention

Help Your Senior Parents Age with Confidence.

There’s no denying this transition will require adjustments in the relationship with your parents, but with a clear game-plan, it doesn’t have to cause undue stress either. Navigate the process in a way that works for all of you and use this guide as a place to start.