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3 Key Questions to Answer When an Aging Parent Begins to Decline

Middle-aged couple with elderly mother

One of the most challenging aspects of moving into mid-life and the years that follow, is the realization your parent's physical, mental, and emotional capacities have declined to the point where your life and your family’s will be significantly affected as you provide long-term care for them.

I lost my father at the age of 50 due to a stroke. My mother died years later succumbing to breast cancer. However, both parents passed away well before the age when their ability to function safely and independently became an issue and long-term care became necessary.

Change Is Coming for You and Your Family

There comes a time when you, as an adult child, realize your parents are declining mentally and physically, and experiencing significant emotional changes. It becomes obvious the quality of their life is declining. You also realize your life and your family's priorities are about to change.

There are certain steps you can take to make sure your parent or parents receive the care they need, and you can minimize the effects their decline has on you and your family.

To help them adapt to these changes, and maintain as much of a quality life as possible, you have to make hard, informed choices once you answer three key questions.

1. What Are Their Current and Preferred Living Arrangements?

You have to assess their current situation. Once you notice a change in their ability to take care of themselves and perform their usual daily activities independently, it’s time to take an honest look at how these changes will affect their quality of life, their independence, and your ability to care for them. Consider these questions.

  • Do your parents currently live in their own home or an apartment?

  • Do they live with relatives or close to you or other relatives?

  • What is their preference if they have to move, a smaller home or and apartment?

  • Would they prefer moving to another part of the country? Where?

  • What are their thoughts about moving into a facility that could address their self-care and daily living needs?

It’s important you take their wishes into consideration, making them part of the decision process if they are able. A good place to start is having what I call a Loving Care Talk as soon as you notice beginnings of physical, mental, or emotional decline.

The talk is an opportunity for you to have a caring but frank conversation about their future needs and your role in their care. You may have several talks, depending on your parent's reaction.

2. How Can They Take Care of Themselves?

A good way to assess how they can take care of themselves and perform daily activities, is to document your observations, those of your family, and even those of friends or neighbors. List the changes you and others have seen as time has progressed.

There are basic self-care functions called ADLs, Activities of Daily Living. These are basic activities we perform every day, and often take for granted until mental or physical problems or decline occur. Examples of these include:

  • Feeding oneself

  • Dressing and undressing themselves

  • Independent mobility

  • Bathing and showering

  • Personal hygiene

If a parent needs help with these activities, there are options that can help, including accessories to help with the tasks, such as walkers or wheelchair, specially designed eating utensils, and shower fixtures designed to make bathing easier and safer.

You, a family member, or neighbor can assist, or you can engage the services of home health care professionals.

3. Are They Able to Perform Certain Independent Activities?

There are certain activities your loved one has been performing as they lived independently. As they decline, they will be unable to perform activities they have associated with living a full life. The inability to perform these activities will distress them and even make them more reluctant to accept care. Examples of these IADs, Instrumental Activities of Daily Living, include:

  • Maintaining a clean home

  • Preparing their daily meals

  • Driving safely

  • Shopping for food and other necessities

  • Communicating over the phone or in person

  • Managing their money and paying bills

  • Their medicine and following a diet as prescribed

  • Keep important appointments

Whether you notice a decline in your parents ability to take care of themselves or perform certain daily activities, you should encourage them in you talks to be tested for Alzheimer's disease and the symptoms of dementia they could be experiencing.

If your loved one is unable to perform these activities that have been so much a part of their quality or life and independence, or do them safely, there are mechanical aides available. Again, you, a family member, friend, or neighbor can assist you in recognizing the decline.

They can also help you with care, or you can engage the services of home health care professionals.

Ultimately, the primary goal is maintaining their quality of life and safety, while helping them maintain as much independence as possible. This should be made clear to them in your Loving Care Talk.

As you take care of them over time, you need to find realistic ways to minimize the effects their decline has on you and your family

Additional reading:

Listen to God's Words

Do not cast me off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength is spent.

(Psalm 71:9)

Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. (1 Timothy 5:8)

Stand up in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the Lord. (Leviticus 19:32)

In the Words of Others

"To care for those who once cared for us is one of the highest honors." Tia Walker

"Our aging parents deserve the same loving care they gave us in infancy." Kamil Ali

"Caring for our seniors is perhaps the greatest responsibility we have. Those who walked before us have given us so much and made possible the life we all enjoy." John Hoeven

Think About It

  • If you have aging parents, regardless of their physical, mental, or emotional condition, answer the first questions about their current and preferred living arrangements.

  • If you're currently caring for your parent or parents, describe the changes that occur in your life and that of your family. What are some of the things you could have done differently?

  • Describe why caring for your aging parents and grandparents is an important part of living your faith, especially if you walk as a Christian.

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