How to take care of ageing parents
As our parents get older, even if they are completely independent, it’s possible they will need help with some tasks. It’s not unusual, for instance for older Australians to call upon the family if they need help moving furniture or redecorating a room.
But as our parents advance in years we might start noticing that some every-day tasks are becoming more challenging and that with some extra help their lifestyle could be improved, without compromising their independence.
When this happens, it can also be difficult to determine what level of help is needed, and in turn help our parents make choices and decisions about their care.
So what can you do?
Having a practical and realistic plan will help, and talking with your parents to develop one, will also help you and them feel more confident in the current and future steps required to ensure their happiness and health.
1. Assess your parents’ needs
To start creating a plan, first, take a step back and talk to your parents about their needs and assess which ones are already being met and which ones they feel they might need help with. Obviously help to ensure their safety is a priority – if your ageing father who walks with a mobility aid is still trying to change light globes by standing on a chair, then getting help with that is a safety priority.
There are eight key categories to look at:
- Support network
- Medical needs
- Physical health
- Personal hygiene
- Social interaction
Keeping an ongoing record, or dated notes of their needs will help you track any changes and identify when you may require some extra support in certain areas. This record will also help when engaging with service providers as the discussion can be focussed on immediate needs.
2. Assess your needs and abilities
If you want to look after your parents personally, you need to ensure you can do so. It’s essential to make an honest assessment of yourself early on in the process to prevent burnout.
Your ability to provide the level of care your parents need will depend on your personality, relationships, and current situation. It’s not selfish if you decide you’re not the best person to care for them. Making sure they have the most appropriate and skilled caregiver is crucial for their wellbeing.
3. Keep including your parents
No one wants to feel their life is not within their control, which is no less true for older people.
Making changes to your parents’ lives may be met with resistance, as older adults who need help are often concerned about losing their independence.
Involve them in the decision-making process and start slowly with small changes to help them feel in control.
4. Consider the financial costs
Understanding the finances involved in caring for your parents should be a crucial step in your plan. Whether your parents are looked after by you or someone else, there will be costs involved.
Their living situation, food, medical costs, and more, will require budgeting consideration. You’ll need to evaluate what you and your parents can afford and compare it against what care they need. You might want to consider seeing a financial planner to better prepare for their care.
If considering assistance from an in-home aged care provider the first step is to contact My Aged Care via their website or contact centre and arrange for the Aged Care Assessment Team (ACAT) to visit you and your parents at home. They will assess their needs and eligibility for government-funded services which can assist with the overall costs. You can find more information about how to do this here.
Planning ahead for this will help ensure they will continue receiving the care they need.
5. Determine accessibility needs
Mobility decreases with age and this can challenge our participation in daily activities. Simple tasks can become dangerous if not managed properly.
Minor injuries like slipping and falling may not be a big issue for someone younger, but it could result in something more serious for an older person. Making your parents’ home more accessible can help ensure their safety and improve their chances of remaining independent for longer.
Simple accessibility modifications can include:
- Installing grab bars or hand rails in the bathroom
- Installing small ramps between rooms where floor levels differ
- Ensuring frequently used items are within easy reach.
- Ensuring lighting is adequate in all rooms
6. Help them socialise
A healthy social life is vital for older adults as isolation and loneliness can seriously impact overall wellbeing and increase the risk of mental or physical illness.
There will undoubtedly be times when you or other friends and family can’t physically be there to visit them. So, in ensuring they have a working phone that is easy to use, consider pre-programming the numbers of friends and family into their phone. This will improve ease of use and increase reassurance that they can quickly contact you or others if they need to.
Another way to prevent loneliness is to research activities for seniors in their area and if your parents have a suitable way of getting there and back. Local councils and libraries offer free or low cost activities for seniors aimed at increasing meaningful connections and participating in engaging activities.
7. Explore options for aged care services
Caring for a parent can be physically and emotionally overwhelming. Knowing your options ahead of time will ensure you meet your needs and those of your parents.
In addition to in-home services, there are other options and resources to consider depending on the level of care your parents need.
- Short-term care or respite care for interruptions in life when your parents may need some extra support just for a while, or when you might need a break.
- Aged care centres for when your parents can no longer live at home independently, even with additional support and care.
The My Aged Care website of the Australian Government provides lots of information and resources to help inform your aged care journey.