Caring for Aging Parents – Assessing Your Parents’ Needs

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“Honor your father and your mother.” These simple words, the fifth of the Ten Commandments, are words that many of us are familiar with. We may have often heard them applied to children, as parents strive to instill respect for their elders in them. However, it is very interesting to note that there is no age limit, no cutoff for this commandment. Even as adults, we need to continue to show honor to our parents and grandparents. When we think about all that our parents have done for us, showing them the honor and respect they deserve seem the least we can do in gratitude to them and the sacrifices they have made in our behalf.

However, as parents get older and need more help, it may be difficult to balance this honor and respect with the increasing demands that modern life puts upon us. In the past, it was not uncommon for several generations of a family to live in the same home. Children thus got the benefit of the love, wisdom and guidance of both parents and grandparents. Grandparents, on the other hand, had a home full of people who loved and cared for them, even as they entered the years where health and previous abilities might be failing. Today, though, with an increasingly mobile and dispersed society, many of us have families spread to different corners of the country. Multi-generational homes are increasingly rare. How can we balance the demands on our time and resources with the need to care for aging parents?

This is becoming a more common experience. The fastest growing age group in the United States is said to be the 75-plus category. In 1900, fewer than one million Americans were 75 or older. By 1980 almost ten million were over 75. Older people are living longer, and about a third of those 85 or older need regular assistance. Does having them move in with us make sense? To be a true help to your aging parents, you must learn what their needs and preferences are. Otherwise, with good intentions you may offer help that your parents do not need and do not want, though they may not want to tell you that. Pressed into this living arrangement, your relationship with your parents, based on misunderstandings, would be unnecessarily stressful for you and for your parents as well.

First to be recognized is that our parents do deserve our honor and respect. It is important to be involved in their lives, without going to the extent of interfering in their lives. To that end, we wouldn’t want to take away any more of the control over their lives than is absolutely necessary. It may be that they will eventually not be able to live on their own, but there is no need to rush to that conclusion. As long as they are able and desirous of living in their own home, that should be respected. It may be that age and infirmities have dulled some of their abilities, but has not completely incapacitated them. Perhaps all that is needed is to help out with some of the chores and maintenance around the house.

Frank discussions are important in this decision. Speak openly about your concerns and listen closely to their feelings on the matter. If they wish to continue to live in their own home, perhaps with a little help on some of the more challenging tasks, give it a try. Keep in mind that any loss of independence or ability is going to be hard for them to accept, and may cause them to seem unreasonable at times. If, after a fair trial, it is determined that they have reached a point where that isn’t workable, then a different decision can be reached. Above all, remember to treat them with the love, kindness, respect and dignity that they deserve. Growing older is tough enough, there is no reason to make it worse.

Because we love our parents, and want to show them honor, we may want to do more for them than they want us to do. Part of honoring them and preserving their dignity is allowing them to live their own lives as fully as possible. A frank, open discussion of their needs and challenges will help all involved, children as well as parents, to see what the best course of action is as we endeavor to care for our aging parents.

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