At some point in your adult life, your once-vital parent – who was always caring for you – will need your help. Whether they’ve recently had a fall that’s hindered their ability to get around, or have been diagnosed with a chronic illness, it’s time for you to step in and take on the role as caregiver.
But where do you begin? Start with the Area Agency on Aging 1-B, which is a non-profit organization serving older adults and those with disabilities in six counties in southeast Michigan.
Here, Jenny Jarvis, the AAA 1-B’s chief of strategy and communication, weighs in on five things to do when caring for your loved ones.
1. Build an understanding of your loved one’s condition
While some conditions, like an injury from a fall, are more obvious, others – such as dementia – might not be.
Watch out for signs, Jarvis says, because parents may try to hide their health issues. However, if you start to notice changes such as clutter around their, house, a stack of unpaid bills piling up on the table, forgetting things, or an unkempt appearance, it could mean something is going on.
When you see even one sign that your parent is having issues living at home, it is time to ask them how you can help. “Many older adults don’t want their children to know they are starting to struggle at home,” Jarvis says. “They want to keep living at home and may be afraid they will have to move to another living option.” Sometimes the issue is easy such as needing new glasses or a change in their medication and sometimes it can be more complicated with a diagnosis of dementia or other chronic diseases that will require more help and support.
2. Utilize available resources
Not sure which resources are available or where to begin? The AAA 1-B has an Information & Assistance telephone line, which is staffed with experts in the programs and services that are available to families within the six counties that they serve.
Families often reach out to them for guidance and understanding on what programs and services may be available to help them care for their aging parent.
“We get calls from family members or older adults who need in-home services to help them stay living at home,” Jarvis says, these services might include housekeeping help, shower assistance, information on housing options for older adults looking to move out of their home, and more. Representatives are available from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and can be reached at 800-852-7795.
“Calling can be better than an email because that gives our staff the chance to ask questions,” Jarvis advises, to better understand the needs of the family, caregiver and their older loved one.
3. Understand the legalities
Does your loved one have a living will? Who have they appointed as power of attorney? Make sure this information is all in place and everyone in the family is aware of your loved one’s wishes.
4. Ask for help
Whether you hire a caregiver to assist you each week, or find help through your local Area Agency on Aging, it’s important to find additional assistance.
“For family members that are caring for an older loved one 24/7 or they are a working caregiver, there are programs called adult day programs available in the community,” Jarvis says.
Some programs work with those who have dementia or cognitive issues, or people who cannot be at home alone due to core needs.
“They have access to music, art programming – and it’s an opportunity for the caregiver to take a break,” she adds.
5. Take time for yourself
It might seem impossible to do when you’re balancing the needs of your family, your aging parent and other obligations, but it’s imperative.
“It’s important to take care of yourself so you can continue taking care of your loved one,” Jarvis says. “Everyone needs time to relax and rejuvenate.”
Be sure to eat a healthy diet, stay on top of your own medical appointments and exercise daily. Ask friends for small favors such as cutting the lawn, cooking a meal or anything else you might need help with during this time.
In addition, it can be beneficial to join a support group with others who are in the same situation that you are. It will give you an opportunity to share thoughts, feelings and ideas.
For more information on the Area Agency on Aging 1-B, visit aaa1b.org.