You grew up, moved out, and started a family of your own. You visit when you can and keep in touch by talking on the phone and emailing pictures of grandchildren, and possibly great-grandchildren, on a regular basis.
As your parents and grandparents grow older, though, they may require more help than they used to in terms of both physical and emotional support. If you are in that “sandwich generation” where you are still raising your own children and are worrying about your parents, grandparents, or in-laws, it can be hard to provide the type of support and care they need. Not only is this frustrating for you; it can also become frustrating to your loved ones.
If you are attempting to care for a loved one while working full-time and/or raising your own family, rest assured you are not alone. Here is a simple yet important list of ways to make this time as easy as possible.
Communicate. Realize that Mom and Dad may not want to worry you with their problems or health issues. Discuss this with them and make them understand how important it is that they be completely open and honest with you about their lives. Also, call them often! You do not need to discuss important issues with them every time. Just call to chat and keep each other in the loop. Talking often about day-to-day events fosters a closeness that you will treasure and also makes it easier to discuss critical matters as they arise.
Ask for help. You may need assistance taking care of aging parents.There are companies and individuals in virtually every community offering a wide variety of services that can help parents like yours. From grocery shopping and preparing meals to cleaning their house and taking them to the doctor’s office, professional caregivers can assist your parents with many tasks, as well as provide company and companionship when you can’t be there because of work or other family commitments.
Keep track of the specifics. It is important for you to know things like social security numbers, who their doctor is, the name of their attorney, and other important information. Also, knowing their dates and places of birth, who their creditors are, what assets and investments they hold, etc., can help you navigate matters that may arise, especially if they grow senile or become victims of fraud or if you end up having to help your parents manage their money.
Make friends with your parents’ friends. Doing so allows you to feel comfortable picking up the phone to contact them in case of an emergency or just to check to see how your parents seem to be faring from another person’s perspective.
Introduce yourself to your parents’ health care providers. It can make a difference for these professionals to know your parents have strong family support and involvement. Make sure your parents list you as a person who is allowed to discuss their health issues.
Caregiving can be emotionally draining and incredibly fulfilling at the same time. Use this list as a basic blueprint of ways you can help, and add to this list other things that may help your unique situation. Instead of feeling guilty that you cannot be with them at all times, concentrate your energy in the more positive direction of doing what you can to the best of your ability. Make the time you are with them quality time. Facing challenges with a positive and pro-active approach makes caregiving easier for all involved.
Lara Breon is the Client Care Coordinator at Comfort Keepers. She has worked with the senior population for the past decade, first as a caregiver while in college, and then as the volunteer coordinator at a performing arts center. She is also active in several local senior organizations.