Wiping runny noses. Driving carpool. Answering the same question 12 times. Scheduling doctors’ appointments. As parents, we expect and accept that these tasks are everyday obligations in our roles as caretakers. As the American population ages, however, many adults find themselves in the role of caretaker for their parents as well, with sometimes ambivalent feelings  about the tasks involved in this balancing challenge.

Different cultures approach aging, and caring for the aged, with varied perspectives. While some families believe that caring for aging parents is always the responsibility of family members (usually the adult children), others feel that older folks receive the best, most informed care from trained providers, whether in-home care or professionally-staffed facility. No single approach works for all families, nor for the needs of each aging member.  If you are exploring the best care options for your aging parent, consider the following points:
1. Call your township. Most areas have a senior services department, which can help schedule Meals  on Wheels and volunteer visits, offer financial or transportation assistance and suggest area resources to help you and your parent.
2. Establish a “treatment team.” With your parent’s doctor as the center point,  develop
circle of providers to help manage your parent’s needs. Consider a counselor, home health staff, nutritionist, physical therapist, attorney and accountant who specialize in older clients–whoever can best advise you and your parent and sustain his independent functioning for as long as possible.
3. Research options sooner, rather than later. Aging people’s health status can change quickly. Start looking into different levels of care, including assisted living, independent living and nursing home facilities, so you and your parent are not caught off guard if the need arises.
4. Join a support group. Just as your parent can benefit from time with his peers at the senior center, caregivers can get replenished, educated and understood by peers experiencing the same developmental milestones. Check with local hospitals, senior centers, and your parent’s physician for referrals to area support groups for adults caring for aging parents.
5. Keep communicating. The changes and limitations that come with aging can be challenging to accept–for both parent and adult child. Talk regularly about your feelings about your parent’s functioning, your fears and concerns for them and your opinions about their care options. Encourage your parent to share her feelings with you. When we love someone, we sometimes “hide” truths from them that we fear may be upsetting. In reality, the “known” is much easier to cope with than the “unknown.” Whereas we are unable to craft a response to the unknown, with the known, we are empowered to act and choose.