There is only one thing we can guarantee in life and that is that at some point we will die. I know, quite a morbid way to start an article right, but it’s a fact and one that as we get older we need to deal with. However, it’s not all doom and gloom so long as we pack in as much as we can to ensure our lives are filled with joy, purpose and happy times spent with our nearest and dearest. Caring for our parents and grandparents as they get older is an inevitable and necessary task and one that can be filled with many different emotions and struggles depending on the individual circumstances. It is up to us to help them remain as independent and as mobile as possible until it reaches a time that further, professional help may be needed.
As much as none of us want to think about it, the fact is that as our parents get older there will come a time when they will no longer be able to drive, they may start to forget things, they may become physically debilitated. We need to help them be as comfortable and as safe as possible in the last stages of their lives.
Here are a few ways in which we can help them achieve this:
Although there are plenty of things we can do to encourage healthy living and independence, there comes a point when mobility will unfortunately become more of an issue. In terms of driving, ultimately it us up to the individual to decide whether they are still fit enough to drive. Everyone must renew their driving licence at the age of 70 (and then every three years after that), however they are not required by law to retake their test, which is why it is so important to sit down and have an honest chat with your parents about whether they are physically and mentally fit to drive. It is by no means an easy conversation to have, but for the safety of your parent and of course other road users it is an absolutely necessary conversation.
If it does turn out to be safer for your parent to no longer drive, you must then discuss the ways this will affect them. How will they get to the places they need to go to each week? Are there local buses? Are you able to drive them?
And of course it’s not just about being able to drive, there’s also the question of how easy it is for your parent to get out and about in terms of just going out for a walk, or popping down to the shops. Are they still capable of walking unaided, or do they need a walking aid or perhaps a mobility scooter from Pro Rider Mobility.
No one likes to admit that they are unable to do things themselves and it can be an incredibly sensitive subject to bring up. More than anything else, you need to make sure your parent understands that you are trying to help them and that by exploring the different ways in which they can remain mobile, this will help them keep some degree of independence.
The sudden shift from being the child to taking on a role that is more like that of being a parent to your parent can be really difficult from both sides. From your point of view it can be so saddening to see a decline in your parent’s health especially if it’s to the degree of you having to basically take on the role of being their carer. And from your parent’s point of view they may feel guilty for putting you in this position.
It’s important to be as open with each other as possible, to talk about your feelings to help get rid of any negativity and accept that this is just the way things have to be. Whilst it is not your responsibility to look after your parent, surely after everything they have ever done for you it is worth your time to reciprocate this love and care, but of course you need to establish limits from the beginning. You both may benefit from the help of a local hospice provider, to support you on this changing journey. Never be afraid to ask for help, as help is out there.
There is a very fine line between caring for someone and controlling them and you must never make your parent feel as though they no longer have a part in any decision making, that their opinions no longer count. Yet on the flipside, your parent must also realise that you have your own life, a life which needs your time and attention, and so a balance must be struck between the two.
A good relationship works only if both parties are willing to listen to one another, to make compromises if need be and to treat each other as they themselves would like to be treated.
Loss of Control
I’ve mentioned it briefly already, but it is the worry of losing control that can be the hardest thing to get our heads around when we age. Being told that you can no longer do something because you might fall, or you might hurt yourself, or you might put yourself at risk is a sure fire way to make you damn well go out there and give it your best shot. Older people have a strong sense of pride and can often be very stubborn, I mean how dare someone tell you that you can’t do something, right? Especially if it is coming from your child, your child who has previously had to listen to what you tell them – not the other way round! As that child we must accept their stubbornness and their right to have a say in what they do, but we also must know when it is time to stand up to them and insist they need help. Again it all boils down to a little bit of give and take – the child must understand the changes and challenges their parent faces and the parent must be willing to accept assistance when it is required.
Make Things Easier For Them
In order for your aging parent to remain independent it is essential that you try and help them to keep their routine as simple as possible. Chances are there won’t be any drastic actions that need taking, not just yet anyhow, more likely there are some small tweaks to be made to help make life easier for them… and for you!
If your parent takes a lot of medication it can sometimes get confusing for them to remember which ones they need to take each day. One very easy thing you can do is buy them a pill box that is divided up into the days of the week. This will allow them, or you depending on the circumstances, to fill the compartments up each week with the correct dosage so that all your parent needs to do is open the box and take the pills on the correct day. At the end of each week check whether all of the days have been taken, as it may be that your parent forgets entirely. If this is the case you may need to think of other ways they can be reminded, for example by leaving a note on the fridge, or even buying them a phone that allows them to set alarm notifications to tell them to take their pills each day. If this still doesn’t help jog their memory then it may be time to seek further help.
To work out how you can help it’s a good idea to take some time and walk around your parents’ home with them and look at any areas that may prove hazardous or that could be improved. For example, handrails in the shower and the stairs would help with their stability and mean that they are less likely to fall. Check whether all of the lightbulbs work so that every area is well lit. Make sure there are smoke alarms fitted and that they all work. And one really important one is to keep a list of important telephone numbers next to the phone so that they can reach help should they need it.
Don’t Talk Down To Them
Have respect. Seriously, please do. This is the person who raised you, who changed your nappies, who fed you, hugged you when you were upset, put a plaster on your knee when you fell off your bike, who kissed you goodnight and tucked you in each night. No matter how frustrated you may get with them at times, it is important you don’t ever treat them like a child. They are not a child, they are not stupid and they should not be spoken down to. Just because they’re older does not mean they don’t have feelings. They do and they can still be hurt, so just be respectful.
Likewise, don’t blame everything on their age. Because actually there may be times when it has nothing to do with their age, not in the slightest. All of us have off days, no matter what our age and so be mindful not to shrug it off as an age thing. The more you blame on age, the more they will begin to question their abilities.