Life Care Options: Caring For Aging Parents

When I grow older, I hope I can stay at home like my grandmother did.  She lived too  far away from us, so none of her family could take care of her.  But she had in-home assistance for many years before she died.

The assistants, who came three times a day, became dear friends to her.  They shopped and made her meals, did her housecleaning, hoisted her up in a harnessed machine and down onto the toilet and into the shower, rubbed her hands with cream, opened her mail, and tucked her in bed at night.  What a blessing it was for her not to have to go to a nursing home, where the wallpaper, the furniture, the bedding, the art on the walls, and the neighbors would be unfamiliar and strange.  She lived and died in her own place.

What will you do when your aging parent can no longer care for him or herself?  Will you become his/her primary caregiver?  Will you move your parent to an assisted care facility?  Will you use the services of an in-home health assistance agency?  What will your aging parent want?  What will you want for yourself, when you are the one aging and in need of assistance?

Fifty million Americans currently provide the home care for an adult family member, according to the National Alliance for Caregiving.  And these people are exhausted.  Caring for an aging parent can be very taxing emotionally, physically, and socially.  Whole families are affected.

If you’re thinking that this is a topic for someone else, think again.  This issue affects all of us, eventually.

My brother, Kenneth Lane, owner of a home care agency called CareMinders Home Care, has shared his interesting perspectives on this issue with me.  He said that some of the adult children of his clients see their aging parents’ needs very differently.  One child might say, “Oh, Dad is in dire straits.  He’s falling, he’s disoriented, and he needs 24-7 care as soon as possible!”  Another might simultaneously say, “Oh, Dad is fine.  He just slipped, but that was because there was water on the floor.  He can take care of himself.”

My brother directed me to read an insightful article on the topic of aging parents, called “Letting Go of My Father,” by Johnathan Rauch for the Atlantic Monthly.  Here it is:

The article moved me.  The author, Jonathan Rauch, the son of an aging man, described himself as “unprepared for one of life’s near certainties—the decline of a parent.” He discovered that millions of middle-aged Americans, like he, are struggling to cope with this crisis that  he says needs to be “plucked from the realm of the personal and brought into full public view.”

The article, “Letting go of my father,” revealed that caregivers live in quiet crisis, but do not want to “confess desperation” so they keep the struggle quiet, as if they are “being graded on coping stoically.”

Rauch wrote that as his own father aged and declined, Rauch reached his own breaking point, and he eventually told his father that “…he was already in assisted living, but that I was the assistance; that I was overwhelmed, under qualified, and barely hanging on emotionally; that I wanted to be his son again, not a nurse and nag and adversary.”

But what options do adult children have when aging parents can no longer live on their own?  While some jump to the conclusion that their parents have to sell belongings, give up the neighborhood and freedom and move into a nursing home, others jump to the conclusion that children should be the primary caregivers for aging parents.

But caregiving becomes an increasingly taxing burden as the parent’s health weakens over time.  Because all of the services available at an assisted living center are also available at an individual’s home, at a fraction of the cost of a nursing home, increasingly, many adult children of aging parents are turning to in-home health care.  Many aging parents do not wish to leave their homes for nursing homes and nursing homes are often prohibitively expensive.


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