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A woman on a walk with her mother, who uses a walker, representing an adult child proactively caring for an aging parent.

Proactively Caring for Aging Parents

Proactively caring for aging parents can present many unique challenges, both logistically and emotionally. This can become even more complex when a parent is diagnosed with cancer or if you are dealing with your own diagnosis while caring for aging parents.

The more proactively you begin the care process, the more smoothly and efficiently you will be able to manage potential challenges. There are key steps to keeping your family safe, comfortable, and secure:

Open Lines of Communication

How you discuss aging will vary depending upon your parents’ needs and who you and they are as individuals. The one common element, however, is that the discussion is essential and ongoing.

You may find your parent grows dismissive or angry, and that is not uncommon. It can be difficult to discuss our end-of-life plans and wishes. Be patient and introduce the topic with ease. Focus on opening the lines of communication in both directions so that your parents feel comfortable coming to you when they need something or when they are ready to make a change in their daily lives.

Open lines of communication are also essential for navigating the difficult emotions associated with aging. They can offer you more insight into what they want in terms of medical care, how long they wish to age in place, and what they are experiencing. Open lines of communication between you and your loved ones can take time and patience, but they are an important part of caring for aging parents.

Manage Safety Concerns

If your parent is aging, even if they show few or no signs of slowing down, you’ll still want to check their home regularly to ensure it’s a safe, hazard-free environment. Older individuals can suffer from complications that would heal much more easily on younger people, so it’s important to mitigate fall risks, install handles and support systems, and clear paths for any necessary walking aids.

This doesn’t have to cost a significant amount of money. You may find that moving your parent’s bedroom downstairs, putting a chair into the shower, or having a cleaning service come help them once a month is all it takes to ensure that they are safe in their own home. If you worry about falls or other risks, you may want to consider personal emergency devices to ensure that they can always access help when needed.

Remember Their Emotional Needs

In addition to potentially needing physical support, your parents are likely going to need emotional support as well. As we grow older, we enjoy many unique and exciting opportunities, new family members, art, memories, and more. But many older individuals can also suffer from loneliness and isolation as family members and friends deal with daily responsibilities.

When you create your open line of communication with your aging parents, be sure to bring up their emotional needs and what they need in the day-to-day. There are many social programs online and in-person that can provide them with community and engagement. You may also want to engage the support of mental health care professionals to step in with anxiety and depression issues that might be associated with the aging process.

Managing emotional needs is as important as managing physical ones, but it can be complicated to discuss. Staying present and engaged in your older parents’ life will help you to notice when they need more support or resources.

Bring Everyone Into the Conversation

You may be one of the lead points of contact in ensuring your parents are physically and emotionally supported, but there are others you will want to stay in close contact with.

If you have family members who are also engaged in the caring process, communicate with them and exchange information so everyone is involved and updated. You should also have the contact information for physicians, therapists, and other medical professionals. Not only will this be essential in the event of an emergency, but doctors can provide insight into the aging process and help you and your family through the small and large challenges.

Account for Emergencies

Emergencies and accidents can occur at any stage of life, but it’s a good idea to have a plan in place in the event that your older parents need help or support. Medical emergencies are not uncommon in older individuals, and taking good care of their bodies and eating healthy will reduce their risk of developing conditions or uncomfortable symptoms.

But not all emergencies can be prevented. It’s a good idea to set aside an emergency fund, if possible, to ease the healing and recuperation process. You’ll also want to have an easy-to-access folder of the essential information regarding their medical care and professionals, so you don’t have to scramble if something happens.

Evolve Slowly

Your parents likely aren’t going to grow older overnight. Different stages of the aging process require different things, and their personal health will change over time as well. It’s important to evolve and adapt as they need to and to regularly return to their physical and emotional needs as they change.

Don’t be afraid to discuss this with them and open the conversation regularly. They may not have been ready for in-home care a year ago but are more open to the idea now. Perhaps meeting their friends for lunch every day is becoming overwhelming. Pay attention to their needs and watch for the changes that indicate it might be time to discuss the next steps.

Prepare an End of Life Plan

An end-of-life planning workbook is a collection of information and decisions prepared by your parent or loved one. It’s a way for them to write down their wishes regarding their medical and financial decisions. The plan can contain information on their personal accounts, work, online presence, and finances. Discuss their end-of-life workbook and adjust it as things change. This will both help you navigate the logistics in the future, and provide them peace of mind that their voice will be heard. Triage Cancer has a number of resources to help at TriageCancer.org/EstatePlanning.

Take Care of Yourself

Caring for yourself while caring for your parents is essential. In addition to managing many of the logistical responsibilities of finding them care, speaking with their doctors, and updating their homes, you are also under a lot of emotional pressure as well. Aging can bring emotions to the surface that can be difficult to manage, including grief, guilt, and frustration, and it’s very important to take care of your own emotional needs, just as you are doing for them.

Not only will this help to give you a sense of peace and make it more accessible to manage the process, but it will also make you a better caretaker. It will reduce your risk of burning out or losing your patience, and it will give you more physical energy and emotional room for difficult conversations.

Set your boundaries, speak with a healthcare professional, embrace your favorite activities, and take time away from your caretaking responsibilities when you can. This will help you maintain a healthy relationship with your parents and yourself and will make it easier to adjust and evolve as their needs do.

In Summary

We don’t like to think of our parents getting older. The aging process can be difficult to understand – especially if you or your parents are also dealing with a cancer diagnosis. Begin early and allow your parents and yourself time to work through the challenging moments. That may mean adding safety equipment to their home, discussing alternative living options, or engaging the help of a mental health professional. Aging is a complex and personal process, and there are many ways to engage so that your parents feel supported, heard, and prepared.

Throughout it, you’ll also want to take those essential moments for yourself, so you can navigate your own feelings regarding the process and provide the best possible care for the ones you love.

Liz Eddy is the CEO and Co-Founder of Lantern.

Originally published on Lantern.co on Feb 12, 2021. Edited for Triage Cancer on Sept 23, 2021.

About Triage Cancer

Triage Cancer is a national, nonprofit providing free education to people diagnosed with cancer, advocates, caregivers, and health care professionals on cancer-related legal and practical issues. Through eventsmaterials, and resources, Triage Cancer is dedicated to helping people move beyond diagnosis. For more information on the topics discussed in this blog, see our Caregiving Resources.

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Kaylee Place
kp@triagecancer.org