Elderly couple and their daughter

Caring for elderly parents

It is often said, that the positive “side effect” of having children is that we will then have someone to nurture us  when we’re old and frail. It may however turn out, that the help from the younger generation will not end there. Or at least – it shouldn’t.

When children are born, their parents devote their time and energy to take care of them, change their nappies, feed and educate. Later on, when the kid is grown up, they leave their family home, get married and have children of its own. The life turns full circle, the parents get old and their health worsens. They are unable to cope with day-to-day tasks by themselves. This is the moment (at least in the theory) when the children should take care of their parents, to somehow pay back for what their Mum and Dad did for the them long time ago. But this task is way much harder and less rewarding than it is in case of adult taking care of their own child.

However, taking care of an old parent does not always have to mean a massive change in your lifestyle. It actually depends on the state of the old person: if they are still up and about, physically fit and fully aware, the care could be limited to several check-up phones, just to control if everything is alright or to see if anything is needed from the shop etc. Sometimes as little as a regular visit in the parent’s house is just enough. But on the other hand, a parent with some memory problems, dementia or with a disability would require a full-time care. In such cases it may be necessary to actually live with a parent.

Taking care of our senior parent – why should we?

The answer seems to be obvious. It’s like paying off a debt for being brought to life, looked after and brought up. When our parent needs help, we should support them during their autumn years. This is how the world worked in previous eras, when families kept together, and most of the houses were multi-generational. Nobody then would have even thought of abandoning a senior head of the family just because they were ill, infirm and weak.

Old parent – it’s a tough business

The problem is very complex, especially because most of us are no longer living in multi-generational homes, in which somebody is always around to help in taking care of the adult or to replace us in case we have other responsibilities. It is very difficult to devote our leisure time to take care of an elderly parent, especially when we are still professionally active or have children or even grandchildren. Sharing time between old and young members of the family may be very difficult and frustrating at the same time, very often it feels like having additional full-time job. And, not the easiest job on the planet either. Seeing our parents weak and frail and totally dependent on us is definitely challenging. Old people may be grumpy, unpleasant or malicious and not necessarily grateful for all the efforts and help offered.

How to cope with taking care of the elderly parent?

If we decide to take care of our senior parent, we may have a feeling of accomplishing an important mission. The bright side of the family care is that all the guilt connected to placing the parent in an organised facility obviously does not exist. To make sure that looking after of our elderly parent is not a traumatic experience for both parties, it’s worth taking care of both yourself and the senior. The first step would be to find out whether we are entitled to a carer from the council who would professionally take care of the elderly parent for several hours a week. If we are entitled, we should benefit from it, especially since such a qualified person will tell us how to take care of the parent properly. Taking care of yourself is also crucial. A person who is in a good physical and mental state will be a better carer for the elderly parent. It is also very important to find some portion of time only for yourself – to relax, and take care of your own well-being. It is also good to use the help of a psychologist in difficult times.

Unfortunately, it is not always possible to look after our own parents. Sometimes the amount of responsibilities, own family or work are just too much. In such cases, hiring live-in care might be an option – at least we are sure that someone is taking care of our beloved elderly parent and is with them 24 hours a day. Only then we can be sure that the parent is properly looked after.