Caring for aging parents can be stressful, sad and downright overwhelming. However, there’s also a lot of joy to be found in this process. After childhood, the nuclear family breaks up and each individual gets busy with their own lives. Caring for aging parents gives you an opportunity to reconnect and make more family memories.
This season looks different for every family. However, you can do a few things that every aging parent will appreciate, regardless of their living situation or financial state. Here are seven ways you can lovingly support your parents as they age.
1. Spend Time With Them
The currency of love is time. Each of us only has so much time and giving it to others shows how much you value them. Deep relationships can only be built by living life and having meaningful conversations together. If you didn’t have a good relationship with your parents growing up, now is the time to cultivate one.
This can look like having dinner together once a week, setting up FaceTime calls or taking them to the park for a picnic. What you do doesn’t matter so much as doing it together. Choose things your parents will enjoy and might have trouble doing on their own. Always consider your parents’ needs so they’re comfortable and feel secure.
2. Bring Them Food
Sharing a meal is a wonderful way to bond. In cultures around the world, families meet to eat together and talk about their day. Research shows that families with small kids benefit immensely from family dinners – they’re less likely to become overweight and do better in school.
As people age, it’s common for loneliness to increase. You can help your parents stay connected and happy by bringing them food and eating a meal with them. Make this a regular part of your weekly routine. If you live far away, send takeout to their house and then FaceTime them over the meal.
3. Listen to Them
American culture has an implicit negative bias toward the elderly. People in America want to be as strong, fast, beautiful and productive as possible. As you age, your productivity and health naturally decline. Unfortunately, this means that people are less likely to respect your parents and listen to them as they age.
You can support your parents by making it a priority to listen to them. Ask them questions and wait patiently for the answers. Always let them have a say in how they live and what medical treatments they want. Try to find out if anything is bothering them and do what you can to help.
4. Retrofit Their House
Many aging adults want to stay in their homes until they die. This is called “aging in place” and is a beautiful way to keep your parents comfortable and active in their later years. If your parents want to age in place, you can consider renovating their house to better accommodate them.
For example, some older adults have trouble stepping over ledges. You can eliminate the risk of falls by putting in an open shower and switching rugs for carpets throughout the home. A home elevator can make moving between different floors safer. If your parents move into a new community for 24/7 care, do everything you can to make their new space feel like home.
5. Take Them With You
If your parents start to need more help, consider asking them to move in with you. This is a very cost-effective way to care for aging parents and it gives your children an opportunity to bond closely with their grandparents. You will have to adjust your pace of life to accommodate them, but the rewards are worth it.
For the elderly, staying involved in close relationships can protect their mental and physical health. When they live with younger people, they’re more active and follow a regular schedule. Conversations stimulate brain activity and keep them interested and happy with life.
6. Help With Maintenance
If your parents are emphatic about staying in their own home, look for ways you can help them keep it up. Help out with gardening, yard work and anything that takes a lot of exertion. If your parents want to renovate part of their home, talk to them about hiring professional help instead of doing it themselves.
You can also volunteer to help on cleaning or shopping days. It’s important not to dismiss your parents’ ability and take these tasks away from them. However, your offer to help can relieve feelings of loneliness and keep them from spending too much energy on routine tasks. If needed, you could also pay for a service to give them extra help around the house.
7. Give Them Independence
Whatever you do, don’t take away your parents’ independence. Getting old is hard and one of the worst parts is losing the ability to do things on your own. Be sensitive to your parents’ wishes and always ask before you jump in to help with something.
Be tactful with how you talk about your parents’ needs. Even when you’re acting from a place of concern, it’s very dehumanizing for your parents to have life decisions taken away from them. In worst-case scenarios, you may have to violate your parents’ preferences for their own safety and well-being. This should always be your last resort and something not done lightly.
Caring for aging parents is challenging for all kinds of reasons. However, it’s also an incredible opportunity to give back to the people who brought you into the world, loved you and taught you how to live. Follow these seven tips to support your parents as they age.
What your parents will benefit from most is simply your presence. As much as you can, show them that they have your support. Be there physically when you can and emotionally when you have to be far away. Your care is the most meaningful gift you can give.