As adult children or other relatives of an aging loved one, we may find ourselves the source of support for him/her. This could include financial, emotion, and/or physical support. Our relationship changes and we feel as if our roles have reversed. But we must keep things in perspective: although our loved one raised us, our duty is not to raise him/her. Our loved one is an adult coping with late in life issues: loss of friends, relatives, and the loss of life as he/she knew it. Both parties have feelings of guilt, sadness, grief, and uncertainty. How we handle the change will make the difference between discord and peacefulness, resentment and acceptance, and depression and happiness.

Here are a few words of advice:

  • Love your loved one for who he/she is. See the person not the disease.
  • Offer your loved one as much independence as possible.
  • Value and respect him/her, always maintaining the dignity he/she deserves.
  • Encourage your loved one to volunteer suggestions, even if they are not sound. You do not need to follow the suggestions, but “consulting” will make your loved one feel needed.

Aging is inevitable. Let’s face it, there are only two absolutes in life…either we grow old or die young. Neither one sounds inviting, but that’s life. Faced with these options most of us grow old and we do it well. But the aging process causes decline in the ability to perform activities of daily living. This decline can prevent us from remaining independent. With the decrease in independence comes an increased stubbornness to remain in charge. It is usually the child who recognizes the need to take charge of a parent’s life for his/her safety. A battle for power usually ensues causing stress for both parties. To effectively manage the changing roles, the best strategy is for both parties to prepare for it before it happens.

It is better to plan ahead than to look back and regret. Talk to your loved one about your and his/her concerns for future healthcare, financial management, and living arrangements. Establish advance directives to dictate medical treatment in the event he/she could not make that decision and identify a medical Power of Attorney (POA). Know what his/her wishes are for end of life care. Talk about and organize financial information and prepare a will. Establish a durable POA that authorizes someone to make both financial and medical decisions. It continues to be in effect when your loved one becomes incapacitated. If no durable POA exists, a conservator or guardian must be sought through the courts. Encourage your loved one to put in writing what he/she wishes to leave to each family member. You may want to contact an ElderLaw Attorney for advice.

Talking about living arrangements can be the most difficult. You may hear that he/she wants to die in his/her own home. But plans should be made for alternative living for the time when your loved one can no longer remain safely at home. Be realistic and avoid making the promise of never placing him/her in a nursing home. Assure your loved one that you will do what is best to keep him/her safe and well cared for.

Recognize when to seek help and find it before a crisis occurs. Call the local Department of Aging or Eldercare Locator (1-800-677-1116) for information about respite services and other resources.

As your loved one ages, the risk of suffering from chronic disease increases. Whether it is cardiac disease, arthritis or dementia, the best defense is always a good offense. Know what you are up against, get as much information as you can and most of all be prepared to make the hard decisions.

Mary C. Fridley