It goes without saying (but we’ll say it anyway) that families play a very important role when it comes to supporting aging loved ones. Traditionally, that support has come pretty naturally, as families often stay close together and it is just expected that the younger will take care of the aging, when the time comes. But, times and cultures are changing. Families are more spread out and sometimes, it’s just not possible for children or grandchildren to step in and fill the role. That doesn’t mean that families can’t remain involved.
If you have an aging loved one, consider the following ways in which to help:
- Connect regularly. Whether you live close by or not, today’s technology allows you to keep in close contact with your loved ones. If you can’t stop by, make a phone call or for your more savvy elderly—Skype, Facetime or Google Chat! If you are in regular contact, you can really get a sense of what life is like for this important person in your life and know when you need to take more action to support them.
- Set time aside for them. Sure, this is part of connecting regularly, but it’s a bit more than that. If you live nearby, stop by for a regular visit and perhaps help with some chores while you are there. If you don’t live nearby, plan regular visits where you can just enjoy being together and help with projects that may need done. But, most of all just make sure you show them that you are there and interested in what is going on in their lives. Don’t reduce it simply to logistics. People of all ages need relaxed, social time in order to keep their spirits up. Avoiding depression is a key to a healthier life, especially for those who are aging.
- Develop a care network. This goes for people who are primary caregivers to their elderly loved ones as much as it goes for people who are not taking on a primary role. If you are providing most of the care, you will need respite, so that you can do it for the long-term and still remain healthy yourself. If you are not providing primary care, one of the best ways to help is to be involved in coordinating care. So, make sure you have a strong network/community of people to help care for your loved one and you feel confident calling on them whenever they are needed.
- Understand their health issues. Yes, doctors and medical care should be part of the care network and further, you should have a handle on the health challenges your elderly loved one is facing. Make sure you can act as another ear for them and also know how the prefer to be cared for. It’s important that you are able to advocate for their care, but also understand the complexities of the situation, so you can help manage medication and know when they need a change in care. You don’t have to be there to do this—but it helps to have someone who interacts with your loved one regularly, so they can also observe changes that the your loved one may not recognize or want to cope with.
- Work together. Family dynamics can be complicated and all kinds of issues can come up when it is time to care for aging relatives. Even if you have relatives whom you feel aren’t “pulling their weight,” it’s really helpful to get a clear sense of what they are willing and able to do, and then accept it. Spending your energy on frustration and resentment doesn’t benefit you and it definitely doesn’t benefit your elderly loved one. Communicate to your siblings or other family caregivers in a respectful and clear way, then identify where else you can get reliable help. It may not seem fair, but your focus needs to be on caring for your loved one and yourself.
Remember, family isn’t always about blood relatives. Be there as much as you can, and find a way to build a sense of family around caring for your elderly loved one—even if you are far away and your idea of family looks different from the way it used to.