Generation gap

By: Alison Dunn Nov 05, 2010
  Article

Aging parents often mean the adult children have to take on the role of caregiver. Do you know how to cope with the changes age brings?

When Audrey Miller meets with a new family looking to discuss elder care options, she often hears the same refrain: “You don’t know my mother.” And she always has the same answer.

“You’re right, I don’t know your mother,” says Miller, managing director of Elder Caring Inc. “But the only normal families are the families you don’t know. We all have our baggage and we all have our history… you’re not the first family (who has had to deal with aging parents) and you’re not the last. But you are not alone.”

Not many of us consider the options for caring for our elderly parents until they are already elderly – and that isn’t always the best way to ensure they continue to maintain a high quality of life. There are many different care options available, and the key is finding the one that best fits your family.

Whether you have a parent with dementia who needs security and round-the-clock care, or a parent who is finding it physically challenging to maintain a home, the options for care are almost as individual as we are.

“Just because someone’s getting older doesn’t mean they’re going to be ill or sick,” Miller says. “You can’t paint everybody with the same brush. Everybody’s needs are different.”

The golden years?

Most importantly, Miller says you need to talk to your parents about their wishes and the various options before they are likely to need care. It’s also important your parents have designated power of attorney in their wills to avoid any conflicts if there comes a time they are no longer able to make sound decisions for themselves.

Miller also stresses that you should never, under any circumstances, make a promise to your parents regarding their care. Mom may want to stay living in her home for the rest of her life, and while you can do your best to accommodate her wishes, there could come a time when it is out of your control. Illness, disability and dementia are all serious issues for older adults, and although you may make promises with the best intentions, sometimes doing what’s right for mom or dad isn’t what they want.

Finally, how do you know it’s time to consider care options? There’s no hard and fast rule, Miller says, but start by observing your parents in their daily routines. Are there new bumps and bruises there, indicating a fall? Is there a strong body odour, which could mean the bathtub is too difficult to access? Are there dents, bumps or scrapes in the car, which could mean tiny car accidents? Are things put away properly in the kitchen? Are bills being paid on time?

If you start to notice too many changes in your parents, it may be time to consider asking to visit the doctor with them and start discussing the options.

Making the transition

What type of care your parent needs depends on his or her health, mental state, finances, opinions and a whole host of other considerations. While no one option is right for everyone, there tend to be several that most families can tailor to meet their needs. They include:

Day care: No, that doesn’t mean a daycare as in children’s daycare. Many senior centres, retirement residences and cities offer day programs for seniors that keep them active and healthy. These are generally options for seniors who don’t want to be alone during the day but don’t need a high level of care. There is usually a lower cost associated with this type of care.

In-home care: In-home care can be either full-time or part-time. In both cases, a qualified caregiver (someone skilled in elder care) provides care that allows the senior to continue living in his or her home. In-home care is quite expensive, however, and you need to ensure you are hiring the right caregiver who can assist with your unique situation.

Assisted living: Throw your preconceived notions of a “nursing home” out the window – today’s assisted living facilities are not what they used to be. Many new facilities are bright, spacious and offer varying degrees of care depending on need. In some cases, seniors may have the option of maintaining their own apartments with the ability to call for emergency assistance. Many offer cafes, restaurants, social events, activities, outings and much more. Assisted living facilities also offer options for when someone needs a little more hands-on care.

Long-term care: Long-term care is generally used for someone who is no longer able to take care of his or her basic needs. This could be someone suffering from advanced Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, another form of dementia, physical ailments and much more. Many long-term care facilities also offer varying degrees of care, depending on the circumstances.

A journalist with more than 10 years experience, Alison’s work has appeared in a number of top Canadian publications, including glow, Oxygen, Canadian Running and more. She is the former editor of a number of well-respected Canadian and American trade journals and recipient of a Kenneth R. Wilson Gold Award of Excellence in feature article writing. She is a part-time faculty member at Sheridan College’s journalism department, as well as an avid runner and fitness enthusiast.