One of the hardest things about getting older is realizing our parents are getting older too. It may be hard to face the fact that your parents are aging, but they are. Many of us adult children want to do whatever we can to help, but caring for an aging parent is a huge commitment, especially when we’re already living our own adult lives. Taking on the additional responsibility may seem like an easy choice — but there is a lot that needs to be done to prepare.
According to a recent survey by T. Rowe Price, 35% of parents with 8- to 14-year-old kids are also caring for an aging family member. There are a lot of adult children who feel obligated to care for their aging parents. After all, our parents have cared for us throughout our lives. So naturally, when the roles are reversed, we feel the need to do the same.
Adult children caring for their aging parents is only going to grow as a societal norm. The number of Americans ages 65 and older is projected to nearly double from 52 million in 2018 to 95 million by 2060. This means more adult children caring for an aging parent in some capacity.
Stepping up and caring for an aging parent is a personal choice. Only you and your family know if it’s the right one and what that looks like. For some, having their parent move in is the best way to care for them. Others may not have the means, so they go down a different route. There are many options when it comes to what’s best. But some people aren’t doing the necessary research to make sure they can give their parents the best care possible.
Dr. Ken Druck is an expert on aging and psychology who spoke with Scary Mommy on the subject. “We need to know five basic things before taking on responsibility and making the sacrifices involved with caring for an aging parent,” Dr. Druck explains.
1. Understanding what we’re getting into
“We need a clear understanding of what we’re signing up for. What are the caregiving needs of our parent(s) and what commitments — time, energy, financial, and psychological — will be required to meet those needs?,” says Druck.
Caring for an aging parent has to be a group effort. There can be no gray area when it comes to what to expect. You need to sit down with everyone — not just your parents, but your family too. Laying out everyone’s expectations before you decide anything is the key to success. This way, if people’s expectations aren’t being met, you have something to refer back to. Are your parent(s) moving in? Lay out the house rules as soon as possible. If they’re moving into a care facility, be honest about how much you can visit and spend time based on your own life commitments.
2. What can you afford to provide?
Druck suggests asking: “What can we afford? What amount of time, energy, and financial and emotional support do we have available to budget without bankrupting our own lives?”
With so many of us a few paychecks away from total financial ruin, caring for an aging parent can be practically impossible. Having a frank conversation about money is imperative. You need to lay out the costs of care at the very beginning. What does their monthly budget look like? How will you be dividing those costs — sharing them with your parents? Maybe you have siblings who are willing to step up as well. Dr. Druck advises seeking financial counsel from a professional to make sure you fully understand.
If you have a family of your own, setting boundaries is another imperative plan. Are there days where you are unavailable unless it’s an emergency? How will you balance everyone’s schedules? The personal changes are just as important as the financial ones.
3. Developing caregiving plans
Druck puts it this way: “Are we ready to make a provisional caregiving plan for our parent, complete with clear terms, conditions, and agreements about what’s going to happen and our parent’s part in the deal? And can we make a commitment to put the plan into play?”
At the start of the conversation, you need to be clear about your intentions with your parents. If you’re not, it can lead to potential disaster and hurt feelings down the line. What if something happens to you? It may be hard to think about the potential what ifs, but it’s crucial. Dr. Druck believes communication is always the biggest key for a successful transition. If you talk to your parents about all the changes and transitions, you can earn their trust.
4. Maintaining balance
“How are we going to maintain some semblance of balance when it comes to our own health and well-being, relationships, job/career, etc.?,” Druck asks.
As caretakers to our families, we’re already burning the candle at both ends. How will adding on the responsibility of caring for an aging parent affect us? It’s important to think of that before you make any final decisions. You’re not helping anyone if you’re constantly overwhelmed or stressed. Allowing yourself the space for self-care assures that the new responsibility doesn’t become just another burden.
Dr. Druck points out, “You need a plan for balancing out and prioritizing the care of your children.” How are you giving them everything they need from you? It’s important for them to have a say in how their lives are changing too.
5. Complementary caregiving resources and support networks
Druck suggests you consider questions like: “What other complementary caregiving and support resources might be available for my parents so I do not overburden myself?”
You may not be able to shoulder the entire burden yourself, and that’s okay. Knowing your limitations is important. Also knowing that there may be other people out there to help is crucial. If you have a sibling, there are ways to work together. Maybe you share labor, or you split costs to hire a caregiver or pay for a nursing home or care facility.
As you move through the beginning of caring for an aging parent, you’re just trying to figure out what’s best for everyone. That will change as needs grow and shift. Maybe your children need you less as they get older. Perhaps your parents need you more. Maybe you realize that it’s all way more than you bargained for.
“Your overall plan will be a work in progress as you become increasingly aware of what’s working as hoped, what’s not, and what other valuable resources are available sharing the caregiving tasks and responsibilities,” Dr. Druck explains. And that’s the most important thing to remember.
Caring for an aging parent, much like caring for children, is always evolving. When these changes happen, check in with yourself and your family. Make sure you’re staying on the same page.