How to Handle a Role Reversal With Your Aging Parent

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“It’s been 20 years since the roles reversed on me. Suddenly I was the parent — a cajoling, coaxing, pleading, gently scolding. Dutifully watching over, ready to break a fall, prevent a slip, steady a wobble. Helping get in and out of the car, buckling seat belts, holding hands, interlocking arms going up and down stairs.” – Patricia S. Guthrie, Huffington Post

Are you ready for a “role reversal” with your aging parents?

For millions of adults around the country, taking care of parents and other older loved ones is a fact of life. Millions of Americans act as family caregivers for their aging parents, providing support in all kinds of ways; this could mean helping your aging loved one with cooking and cleaning, offering rides around town, or assisting with activities of daily living (ADLs), like grooming, bathing, or getting around at home.

In situations like this, it’s easy to feel like you and your parents have swapped places. That you’re now the one “in charge,” responsible for making the decisions, managing the household, and taking care of your loved one’s health and wellbeing.

This can be a challenging time, for you and for the older adults you may find yourself caring for. Often, there are a number of tricky transitions that are going to have to take place.

For example, you may need to adjust your mindset, from being a care recipient to a caregiver. You may need to adjust to seeing your parents as you have, perhaps, never seen them before – physically or emotionally vulnerable, in need of help, or forgetful. And, finally, you may need to adapt your lifestyle toward helping out those you love. Over time, you may find yourself having to:

  • Rearrange your work schedule
  • Coordinate caregiving duties with your siblings, other family members, or a professional service
  • Find ways to help your parent remember their medications and pay bills (or take over these and other administrative tasks at home)
  • Go out of your way to help your parent stay socially engaged
  • Perform other responsibilities you may not have given much thought to before

It’s important recognize that becoming a caregiver will be a learning process for everyone involved. This is true for yourself, your parent, and for any other family members or friends who might play a role.

In many cases, it will take time – and perhaps some trial and error – for everyone to get used to the realities of this new situation. You may need to adjust to find the arrangements that work best for you and your loved ones. It can take time to learn the communication style that will make things easiest for you and your family.

Don’t get discouraged or angry if the pieces don’t fit overnight, and be ready to approach each new challenge with an open mind and a willingness to collaborate. And remember that caregiving is the ultimate act of love. It’s OK to be frustrated or discouraged every now and then, as long as you don’t allow these thoughts to consume you or set you back.

Finally, remember that everyone’s situation will be unique. Some families may adapt very quickly to any potential “role reversal.” Others may find these changes more difficult to weather, due to any number of circumstances.

So, with all this in mind, what can you do to make this tricky period more manageable, for yourself and your loved ones? Here are three points that may help:

1.) Don’t Treat Your Parents as “Children”

While you may find yourself in a position where you are caring for your parents for the first time, it’s important to remember that they are adults, and not children. They should be treated with love, respect, and kindness, taking into account the rich lives that they’ve lived, the myriad experiences they’ve had, and the precious memories that you may share together.

Be patient and flexible, and take care to listen to your parents. Make caregiving a dialogue, rather than trying to dictate everything. Adjustments might be more easily made if your parent feels involved in the decision-making process, be it about meals, companionship, driving, or living arrangements. Treat them with dignity, the same way that you would like to be treated.

At the same time, be sympathetic, and recognize that these changes may be just as difficult for your parents as they are for you. Finally, don’t let the responsibilities of caregiving get in the way of you experiencing life together, as a family. Remember to go out, share meals, watch movies, talk about old times, and have a relationship beyond providing care. Trust, love, and respect are often built on these mutual experiences.

2.) Watch for Changes and “Yellow Flags”

As a caregiver, one of the most important – and trickiest – things you can do is to know which changes you may witness in your parents are normal, and which may be a sign of a larger underlying problem that should be addressed.

There are a number of warning signs you can watch out for, which suggest that your parent may need help beyond what you can give. Some common examples include:

  • Your loved one is unable to keep up with ADLs
  • Changes in grooming, dressing, or hygiene habits
  • Rapid weight loss
  • Slow or hesitant movements
  • Giving up housekeeping (cleaning, cooking, gardening, etc.)
  • Withdrawing from social activities; not responding to phone calls or letters
  • Confusion
  • Mood swings
  • Personality changes
  • Speech changes – for example, speaking more slowly, more haltingly, or repetitively

3.) Know When to Ask for Help

Finally, remember that you don’t have to go it alone. Your parent may need more support and one-on-one care than you can provide. They may benefit from getting to interact with another friendly face. You may not be able to find time in your schedule to be with your parents as often as you’d like.

In all of these cases and more, your loved one could benefit from the help of a professional caregiver or companion, like those provided by Companions for Seniors. With a companionship or caregiving service, you can rest assured that you’ll always have a professional on hand to fill in when you can’t, providing your parent with attention and care right when they need it most.

Our professional caregivers can assist with many different aspects of caring for your elderly loved ones, from providing transportation services, to assisting with housekeeping and meal preparation, to helping with ADLs, like grooming or bathing.

As you step into your role as a caregiver, recognize when you’re hitting your limits, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. It could make all the difference, giving you back time and allowing you the respite you need, while also allowing your loved to receive the personalized care and service they deserve.

About Companions for Seniors

At Companions for Seniors, our mission is to help seniors live independently and with dignity in the comfort of their own home. We believe in powering older adults to lead an active and enriched lifestyle by connecting them with their community and helping them to nurture meaningful relationships.

Our companions are trained, bonded, and insured, and can help provide a variety of services designed to help your loved one remain in their own home. We are locally owned and operated in the Chicago area, with clients across the city and suburbs.

Have any more questions that you’d love an expert opinion on? Interested in seeing what sets our services apart? Don’t hesitate to get in touch today to get the conversation started.

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