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Aging Parents

Ilysse Rimalovski

What Does "Aging Parents" Mean?

As we get older, so do our parents, and their wellbeing is strongly bound to our own.

Most older adults will remain productive and engaged with family, community, recreation, volunteering, and/or work, maintaining good health and independence without needing (or wanting) well-meaning help from their children.

In fact, increased life expectancy and other trends are changing how family members care for each other. Grandparents, and even great-grandparents, may live to see the youngest members of their families become adults.Therefore, the term aging parents may refer to you, your parents, or multiple generations at once.

A Brief Intro to Care and Caregiving

Gerontologists (scientists who study aging and older adults) classify those aged 65-75 as the young old; 75-85 as old; and those 85+ as old old. Caring about those we hold close is not the same as caring for them; it is the difference between feeling the emotion of giving care versus helping them with daily needs. It marks a change in independence and may be temporary or long-term.

Informal care is another term for caregiving family, friends or neighbors. In this relationship, those we help are called care recipients.We may be called upon to help with routine activities of daily living known as (ADLs) such as bathing, toileting, grooming, dressing, eating, and mobilizing. We may also need to help with instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs) like cooking, housework, transportation, shopping, managing finances, companionship, emotional support, and light medical and nursing tasks.

Elder care specifically addresses the emotional, mental and physical wellbeing of older adults.

Sometimes we need extra help to perform these tasks and more. Formal care describes services provided by licensed professionals such as social workers, registered nurses, medical doctors, and occupational therapists; and unlicensed trained workers providing care in institutions such as nursing homes, assisted living facilities, community-based facilities, and private residences.

What is a Sandwiched Caregiver?

A growing phenomenon, the sandwich generation describes those adults who have a living parent 65 or older and are either raising a child under age 18 or supporting a grown child – often tasked with multiple obligations to provide financial, physical, and/or emotional support. As a result, stress and burnout is common among these caregivers who juggle finding time to be a good spouse, parent, and child while managing work, relationships and self-care.

If you find yourself in this circumstance, it is important to seek support to learn how to better cope with the burdens of caregiving that have the potential to compromise your own wellbeing.

Everything’s Fine Until...

While aging parents are still healthy and independent, it may be harder to notice slight changes in their behavior or physical appearance. Children who live far away from parents may need to check in with more frequency. Eventually, the effects of aging, illness or crisis will likely demand critical conversations about planning for short and/or long-term care.

Common challenges that may prompt caring for aging parents include:

  • Help with ADLs and IADLs
  • Safety issues (like driving)
  • Medical and health issues
  • Legal and financial issues (insurance and necessary documentation such as a will, power of attorney and healthcare proxy)
  • Housing issues (such as downsizing, aging in place vs. moving in with a family member vs. assisted living and associated costs)
  • Quality of life (connection, purpose, autonomy, and dignity)
  • Planning ahead for end-of-life

While making plans for future care (such as instructions for handling health care decisions, living arrangements, and financial matters), also called advance care planning, is still not the norm, it is far easier to talk about these things before being forced to do so. Planning proactively can preempt the stress, worry, uncertainty and expense that typically accompany unanticipated health-related events.

Therefore, honestly looking at where an aging parent needs support is the first step. There are many valuable resources below to assist in this process. Then, assess the possible solutions in order get your parents (and you) the help that’s needed. That way, everyone can focus on what matters most ¬– enjoying life fully with dignity and meaning.

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About the Author

Ilysse Rimalovski is a certified personal coach, writer and family caregiver focused on long-term wellbeing. In 2021, she earned an MA in Care, Aging and Entrepreneurship from NYU to complement multiple coaching certifications she received during the past 20 years. Understanding the need to talk proactively about care, care planning and preferences, she became a Conversation Champion for The Conversation Project, an organization dedicated to helping people share their wishes for care through the end of life. Find Ilysse at [email protected] and thrivewell.com. Subscribe to The Care-Prepared Checklist here.