Okay, deep breath. Mom and dad are moving in. Or maybe just mom, maybe just dad, maybe you’re going to be moving in with them — well, regardless of the situation, things are about to change. Before you become the primary caregiver to an elderly parent, there are six crucial steps you should take to ensure everyone is prepared for this big change.
- Consider why they’re moving in — Are they struggling with cognitive limitations or physical difficulties? Is it loneliness or financial trouble? Once you’ve determined the reason for their move you’ll be able to assess their needs, recognize your own limitations, and set up a plan.
- What are their needs? — So now you know exactly why they’re moving in. But as the primary caregiver, it’s important to have an accurate picture of their health status. Visit your family doctor or your aging parent’s geriatrician. A complete medical evaluation can help you to understand their needs. The doctor can also refer you to organisations that provide resources to caregivers. “There are lots of resources and training out there,” says Anne Vanderbilt, a clinical nurse specialist at the Center for Geriatric Medicine, Cleveland Clinic. “The Alzheimer’s Association is fabulous—they can help you identify your needs and get the training that’s necessary.”
- Talk to your family — Whether it’s talking to your parent or kids or spouse or siblings, it’s important to make sure everyone is on the same page.
Your aging parent may feel strange about you being the one taking care of them after so many years of them taking care of you; communicating about this role reversal, what they’re comfortable with (bathing, changing an adult diaper, helping them in the bathroom), and what you’re comfortable with is important before you begin this transition.
Consider where your parent will sleep — will anyone have to give up their room? Will things have to be moved around? Who will contribute funds for your parent’s living expenses? Talk to your siblings to see if they’re willing to pitch in financially or whether they’re okay with allowing you to take periodic breaks when you have an emergency or a vacation planned.
Talking to your family members about this transition can be useful in the long term so everyone is prepared and on the same page.
- Consider ‘burnout’ — Burnout is a very real thing. If you’ve had children, you probably remember the feeling. Your parent isn’t a child, but it’s very likely they’ll require a lot of the same attention and energy they once gave you. Making sure you’re ready for this challenge physically, financially, and yes, even emotionally — is important before going further.
Take time to create a plan in advance if you need a break: asking the family to help, taking a vacation once a year, or setting aside an hour or two each day for “you time” can help to avoid burnout before it happens.
- Arrange your house according to their needs — You may have to install certain safety measures in your home before your aging parent moves in. Things like grab bars in the bathroom, brighter bulbs, no-slip adhesives on tiles and other slippery surfaces, and removing tripping hazards may be required depending on the situation.
- Know when to ask for help and who to call — You won’t be able to do this alone. Knowing when to ask for help when you feel exhausted or over your head is essential. Whether it’s from medical professionals, family members, friends, or organizations that exist to help caregivers directly, it’s important to have someone in your corner.
Especially if you have three generations under one roof, the transition may not be the smoothest. But by planning ahead you can at least foresee some of the bumps, cushions them a little. This is a big change but as long as everyone in the family is on board emotionally, mentally, and physically (kicking, screaming, but on board), that’s something.