If your parents are in their golden years, keep in mind that even gold can lose some of its glow with the inevitable effects of old age. Sooner or later, older loved ones will need assistance.
"It's never too early to start planning for their future care," says Virginia Morris, author of How to Care for Aging Parents. "Many children of aging parents wait until there's a crisis, and then they're left scrambling for mediocre options. Everyone—especially those who live far away from their parents and work full time—can benefit from being prepared and planning far ahead."
"Don't parent your parent," she urges. "The point isn't to control your parents' life, but to help them maintain control. Your role is to give them as much autonomy and independence as possible."
When it's time to act
One day, all the signs may point to the need for you to actively step in to assist your parents. These are some of the telltale signs:
"Trust your instincts," Morris says. "Anything that strikes you as 'Hmmm, is this OK?' probably isn't OK."
Important first steps
Immediately open a line of communication with your parents' doctors so you can discuss your concerns. And if you live far away, obtain a copy of your parents' local phone book so you can contact care providers and other resources.
Defining your limits
Many adult children find their first steps into caregiving responsibilities are like walking into quicksand. If you don't manage your time well or haven't planned in advance, you can become mired in never-ending obligations, such as daily chores and care, handling legal or financial issues, or lining up health care providers.
"You need to set limits," Morris says. "Establishing limits doesn't mean you don't love your parents or that you can't take good care of them. But you're not going to be any good to them if you're depressed, angry, or sick. You have to take care of yourself."
To do this, Morris offers these suggestions:
"People often push themselves until they become burnt out and angry at their siblings, and their work starts to suffer. I have seen several times where caregivers ended up in the hospital because they were so wiped out," Morris says. "This can be a consuming job. It's crucial to take care of yourself."
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