There comes a time in most of our lives when we must take on the role of caregiver. For many of us, that time comes when our elderly parents can no longer look after themselves as well as they once did.
There’s a very fine line between caring for our elderly parents and taking control of their lives. Many people struggle with boundaries as they fall into the often-difficult role of caregiver but it’s important to be mindful of your elderly parents’ independence.
A survey carried out by the UK’s Disabled Living Foundation charity showed that the majority of elderly people fear losing their independence more than they fear dying.
Losing independence can affect the health and wellbeing of your loved ones and create a wave of emotions including anger, fear, guilt, and depression.
As so many aspects of their lives change with age, your elderly parents may feel that independence is one of a few factors they still have control over. Maintaining independence provides a sense of purpose, achievement, and self-worth.
Looking after your parents whilst allowing them to maintain their independence is also beneficial for you. You will not have to give up life as you know it to become a full-time caregiver, nor will you have to carry the weight of being solely responsible for your elderly parents.
Finding a balance between caring for your elderly parents and ensuring they maintain their independence can be tricky.
So much can be solved by having a conversation. Before you start making big decisions about what you think is best for your elderly parents, have a chat with them.
Address any concerns that you have and ask them what they think is best. If your loved ones feel their opinion is valued, they are more likely to be open to addressing your concerns.
When talking to your elderly parents, choose your time wisely. Having challenging conversations when your mum or dad are having a tough day is only going to create unwanted tension.
For example, if you think it’s no longer safe for your parents to be driving, taking their keys and telling them to stop is not going to go down very well. Instead, explain that you are worried and suggest that they only drive if necessary and only during the day.
Taking small steps and involving your elderly parents in the decision-making allows them to maintain their independence.
Just because your parents can no longer look after themselves as well as they used to, it doesn’t mean they require full-time care. Instead, try to find small opportunities to provide help.
For example, if your parents are regularly forgetting to take their medication (it happens to the best of us!), perhaps provide a well-labelled medication pack.
You could also set a daily alarm on their mobile phone or clock to remind them when it’s time to take their medication. This way, you won’t be constantly worrying if they’ve taken the medication or regularly ringing to check on them.
Similarly, having a calendar on the fridge with important dates marked on it, such as upcoming doctor’s appointments and family members’ birthdays, can be helpful. Perhaps you can also organise for a weekly cleaning service to come by.
Small gestures like this help your loved ones get used to your assistance without making them feel as though you are taking over.
It is completely normal to worry about your elderly parents living in their house alone. Most of us would rather have them stay in our homes with us so we could always look out for them.
However, this situation can quickly become stressful for your parent and the rest of the family, so it is best to consider various accommodation options.
Nursing homes, for example, are great for elderly people who require various levels of care. However, nursing homes are extremely expensive, and it can be difficult to find a suitable one close to the family home.
Additionally, nursing homes are not the best option if you are trying to help your elderly parent to maintain their independence.
More suitable accommodation may be a granny annexe. Granny annexes are cost-effective and allow your elderly parents to be close to you and your family, whilst having their own space and their own belongings.
If your elderly parents would prefer to stay in their home, be supportive of their decision and talk about measures that can be put in place to help them.
For example, handrails, a stairlift, an accessible shower, secure anti-slip rugs, and a security system that can be used for emergency situations, as well as securing the home, are all options worth considering.
Most communities offer social events, classes, and friendly groups specifically for elderly and retired people. These often take place at the local community centre or library. They may be in the shape of a ‘knit and natter’ session, a coffee morning, or a Men’s Shed.
Encouraging your parents to attend social events allows them to keep active, make new friends, and talk to people with similar interests. It also allows them to maintain their independence and have a life outside of the family unit.
Gift your loved one a tablet, iPad, or another mobile device, and teach them how to use apps such as Skype. This will allow them to stay connected to family and friends, and they will enjoy being able to see a friendly face rather than talking on the phone.
Also, ensure that your elderly parent always carries their mobile phone with them and understands how to contact you if they need to.
Once your loved one is accustomed to using their device, show them additional uses such as websites relating to their hobbies, online puzzles, or even e-books.
It can be challenging to balance the things your parent wants with the things they need. It is important to remember there are no right or wrong answers when it comes to looking after your parents. Afterall, we always have their best interest at heart.
Do your elderly parents require constant care or are they rather independent? How do they maintain their independence? What do you do to help them feel in control of their own life, even when they can’t take care of themselves as well as they used to? Please share your experience and stories below!