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The Caregiver Evolution

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Navigate the ever-changing role of caring for an elderly parent.

As the American population ages, a growing number of adults have the opportunity to engage in a new and evolving relationship with their aging parents. Providing care in the form of errands or chores, financial support or personal care presents a beautiful and rewarding way to give back to the person who cared for and helped you become the person you are today.

Thirteen percent of the U.S. population is over age 65, and a recent Pew Research study estimates that more than half of these individuals receive care from an adult child. That number jumps to 64 percent when they reach the age of 75. Adult children can be prepared for the role of caregiver by understanding some of the potential ups and downs and taking a proactive step of initiating important conversations with family members in advance.

Navigating role reversal as a new caregiver

After a lifetime of turning to mom or dad for help and assistance, it’s now your turn to return the favor. You may be called upon to gradually — or abruptly in the case of a sudden health crisis — step into the role of caregiver and decision-maker.

Relationships with a harmonious history often make this shift easier. But it’s natural for some older parents to resist a caregiver’s involvement for fear of losing independence. However, loving communication can ease this transition. Talk frequently and honestly with the entire family about ways to find balance given the new responsibilities in addition to your everyday life, and don’t hesitate to seek help if their parents’ needs become more than you can handle safely.

It is important to stay on top of financial affairs during this transition. Caregivers should consider the right timing to become the financial power of attorney for their parent. Unfortunately, changes in vision and dexterity can complicate independent bill paying, and unforeseen medical expenses may strain the budget. Further, your extra vigilance will help your parent avoid scams and schemes targeting seniors.

When residential care becomes necessary

You make informed decisions in many areas of your life, from buying a car to switching careers, and helping a parent make the switch from home to a senior living community should be no different. While some caregivers feel guilty that it represents failure, others recognize the decision as the best way to ensure the health and safety for their parent.

The best way to simplify this complex transition is to plan ahead. Sometimes a sudden change in health drives the need to move, such as a stroke or fall resulting in impaired mobility. In these instances, the family is often still reeling from the event while simultaneously making quick decisions before the loved one is discharged from a rehabilitation facility. Planning ahead allows families to discuss and research options, tour communities in advance and understand the financial impacts of each, easing the pressure if the unforeseen should happen. Involving parents up front helps them be part of the decision-making process, which ultimately gives them a sense of control — something important to everyone.

Other times, a slower decline in health or memory drives the decision. A change in special care needs related to dementia, incontinence or help getting to and from bed can become too much for the family caregiver’s expertise, schedule or the safety of the parent. Informed planning will ease the process in these cases as well since all of the important decisions will have already been made.

When the time comes, there can be guilt on the part of the family and resistance from the loved one. Seek comfort knowing the right care for the health and safety of your parent is the priority. Work to empower your parent as the keeper of your family. They still hold the family history and can continue to feel proud passing that legacy on to others.

Caregiver role changes carry on

The ultimate responsibility as a caregiver is to see that your parents live a full and safe life in whatever stage of health they find themselves. A move to an assisted living community does not change this duty, however, the tasks involved at this stage look quite different from in-home care. Once the community has been selected, it is your job to prepare your parent for this transition and complete the move with dignity. Care continues in the form of ongoing check-ins, visits and advocacy, all of which help ensure the care and attentiveness of the staff.

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Making peace with the decision to move a parent to assisted living

When the best long-term plan for an aging parent includes a move into a senior living, the pragmatic decision can still be emotionally difficult. To help caregivers come to terms with the decision, following are five compelling benefits seniors receive from assisted living that increases quality of life.

  • Safe Environment

    Senior living communities are specifically designed for accessibility and mobility to avoid falls and injury, relieving the need to add expensive safety measures in the home. Twenty-four-hour staffing also ensures that someone is always there in case of an emergency.

  • Social Activity

    A Harvard School of Public Health study found that maintaining an active social life seems to delay memory loss. Since it can be isolating to live at home, retirement communities make it easier to connect through structured activities and proximity to neighbors.

  • Access to Fitness Activities

    Personal trainers and on-site group exercise classes are geared specifically for older adults are often part of the programming in assisted living communities.

  • Supervised Nutrition

    Trained professionals prepare foods nutritionally geared toward the needs of older adults and monitor consumption to maximize health.

  • Housekeeping Handled

    Senior living communities relieve your parent — and you — of the burden of daily home responsibilities such as cleaning, laundry and yard work. Transportation services are also included in Spectrum Retirement Communities.