If you are tired of caring for elderly parents, don’t despair. A better way is possible. Being a caregiver for elderly parents requires immense patience and understanding. It can be a tiring, life-stopping, career-threatening and sometimes even a thankless job. It can be even worse for some, if after all the hard work, all you feel is a momentary, fleeting satisfaction of having helped a loved parent in their difficult time. Have you ever sat back and thought, “Why am I doing this?”. If you have, (or even if you haven’t), we are here to help.
What to do if you feel tired of caring for elderly parents?
If you constantly feel tired of caring for elderly parents, we will help you figure out ways to make your parents as independent as possible. It would mean that you do not spend as much time caring for your elderly parents. You can use this new found time to actually bond with your elderly parents. Spending more quality time with elderly parents in their golden years will give them greater happiness than doing chores for them.
No human being – not even the frailest and the most sickly of us – wants to be dependent on someone else for their day to day activities. We all want independence, maybe sometimes a bit of help here and there. If we think back and make the decision about how we can make life easier for a loved one, instead of constantly feeling tired of caring for elderly parents, we can start planning how we can make them more self reliant. As this article from the New York Times shows, you are not alone, if you feel tired of caring for elderly parents. So take heart and read on to find out how you can make your elderly parents’ life better by making them independent while creating more time for yourself.
We admit that there may be some circumstances when you might have to step up yourself to take care of your elderly parents. At the same time, most modern-day assistive equipment and amenities have made life very easy for the elderly.
As a first step in taking care of elderly parents, we begin by first making a fair evaluation of the parents’ needs. For that we need to understand Activities of Daily Living (ADLs) and Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADLs)
Understanding ADLs and IADLs
Elderly care specialists often discuss the terms – “Activities of Daily Living” (ADL) and “Instrumental Activities of Daily Living” (IADL). These are an essential set of activities that must be performed in order to lead an independent life. Understanding you parents’ ability to perform ADLs and IADLs is the first step towards evaluating what level of help and what living arrangement would suit their requirements.
ADLs are essential daily tasks. The six main ADLs are eating, using the toilet, movement, bathing, dressing and grooming. As against ADLs, IADLs are a little more complex tasks. IADLs include:
- Managing transport (driving or taxi/subway etc).
- Managing finances such as paying utility bills, managing financial assets
- Shopping and meals. This includes everything needed to make a meal. Shopping also includes buying clothes and other daily use items.
- Home maintenance and cleaning, which includes cleaning dishes and the kitchen after a meal, regularly cleaning living quarters and toilets and maintenance of home such as minor repairs etc.
- Managing communication (email, SMS, phone usage, mail)
- Managing medicines (includes buying and taking as per prescription)
In order to lead an independent life, parents need to be able to negotiate all the ADLs and IADLs on a daily basis. If not, then help is needed. Whether that help is in the form of professional caregivers, community service or even technological devices that can provide assistance is a question that can be answered when you get into a dialogue with your parent.
Living Arrangements for the Elderly
Probably the most crucial aspect of deciding to live without a family caregiver is to select the right living arrangements. The right living arrangements for the elderly has to take into consideration their ability to negotiate each of the ADLs and IADLs listed above.
There are two main types of independent living – living without assistance and living with assistance (in any form). Within these two broad categories, there are several options:
Living without assistance
- Aging in place: Probably the most preferred option by most seniors is to continue to live in their own homes, especially if they have a strong community near them who can support them in the case of any need. We are going to cover this in detail below.
- Senior home care: You can help your parent combine the best of both worlds here. You can have help come home to support them while they choose to age in place.
- Co-housing: Co-housing can be senior-only or mixed. While you continue to own your home, there are many common areas in such residences such as gardens, parks, community halls etc. This builds a closely-knit society where everyone can bond with neighbors.
- Home sharing: The homeowner can rent out a room in lieu of rent and help around the house. Many times college students might be interested in such a living situation since they need the extra money.
- Moving abroad: This is meant for people who are physically fit and want to explore new cultures or are looking to lower their cost of living. Many low cost countries can offer great weather and medical facilities at prices that are a fraction of what is available in North America.
- Age-restricted communities: These are societies or areas where only people above a certain age are allowed to reside.
Living with assistance
If your parent and you decide it is the best for them to live in an assisted living facility, there are different options available to choose from. While they are listed below, we cover them in greater detail in our article on “How to choose an assisted living residence?“.
- Assisted living: These refer to housing options that take care of many of the seniors’ Instrumental Activities of Daily Living such as cooking and cleaning, but not necessarily medical assistance.
- Nursing homes: This is preferable if the parent needs medical surveillance and care, but not at a hospital. These typically offer nursing staff who can provide 24-hour care.
- Respite Care: It is assisted living or nursing homes which provide services on a temporary basis. This is useful in case the parent needs to recover from surgery or illness.
- Memory care: Nursing homes caring specifically for patients of dementia. Typically they are more robust in keeping the patient supervised.
- Continuing Care Retirement Facilities: These facilities provide housing options, assisted living and nursing all in one place so that the patient can get the right facilities on an immediate basis.
Caring for Elderly Parents Living without Assistance
Many people prefer to continue living in their home even in old age since it provides familiarity and comfort. In this section, we will explore some of the ways in which aging in place can be made more comfortable for elderly parents. We will also talk about the adjustments and modifications needed to make sure that disease and old age will not impact their quality of life for them.
With our ADL and IADL framework already in place, let us discuss each of the daily tasks, what kind of problems could arise when living independently, and solutions that can be put in place to help them sort out things independently.
Managing Activities of Daily Living (ADLs) for Elderly Parents Aging in Place
Walking or movement within and outside the house
The ability to move from one room to the other inside the house or even going outside for daily errands is critical for the happiness of your elderly parents choosing to age in place.
- Depending upon your parents’ ability to negotiate movement and the advise of their therapist, you can help them choose from several mobility aids available such as walking canes to walkers, rollator walkers, manual wheelchairs and power wheelchairs
- You might want to explore the option of installing wheelchair ramps on all thresholds in the house. This helps avoid stumbling and falling. Threshold wheelchair ramps also allow easy access for mobility devices.
- Do help them to keep pathway and passages clear of clutter. Helping them have an open area to walk around is also important. Moreover, if your elderly parents want to use a wheelchair within the house, they have to be mindful of width of different passages and doorways in the house as compared to the width of their wheelchairs. You do not want extra clutter in the house reducing the width available for a wheelchair to safely pass.
A slip and fall can be extremely serious for the elderly. It is a good idea to make sure that your elderly parents can negotiate stairs safely and comfortably.
- A simple product like half assist steps can help elderly parents negotiate steps easily.
- While it can be a big investment, stair lifts help elderly parents access different levels of a house easily. You should discuss getting stair lifts installed in their house if your elderly parents are keen on staying in their house for the foreseeable future.
- Stair treads (check out on Amazon) are another good option to ensure that stairs, especially those stairs that have been in use for some time, are not slippery for your elderly parents. Even better, they can give the house a refreshed look!
Making the kitchen more elderly friendly
There are several modifications that can be put in place to ensure a safe and useful kitchen for the elderly. Moreover, it is a great idea to start buying kitchen appliances suited for the elderly. But even before you spend the money, you can easily rearrange the kitchen to make it easier for your elderly parents to manage their cooking and eating on their own. Have a look at what you can do to the kitchen to help your elderly parents age in place.
- All appliances should be kept at counter height, for easy access and to avoid having to either bend down or reach up, which can cause injuries to seniors.
- Avoid cabinets below the counter height as well for the same reason as above.
- It will be a great idea to get a slip-resistant flooring in the kitchen, which will avoid slippage due to moisture on the floor.
- Install pullout pantries which makes searching for items easier. Moreover, the drawers do not discomfort your back and neck when reaching for items, as opposed to cabinets. It is also a good idea to invest the time to mark out in big block letters, what is stored where. It will go a long way in helping your elderly parents locate ingredients, making them much more independent.
- Get shallow sinks. Normal sinks may require your parent to have to hunch over to place utensils, which can be avoided by installing a shallow sink.
- The sink should be kept as near as possible to the stove. This avoids the need to move heavy utensils over a greater distance.
- Purchase appliances such as kettles and microwave with the following features in mind:
- Must have an auto shutoff feature. This helps avoid the risk of accidental fire because of leaving the device on due.
- All heating devices should have visible temperature meters, with clear large indicators to help the parent know how hot the contents inside are and therefore avoid accidental scalding
- Devices such as kettles which need to be lifted from their place should be cordless as far as possible. Lesser cords mean lower chances of the wires getting tangled in anything.
- Devices should have concealed heating elements and insulated exteriors.
- Drip-free spouts and nozzles on all devices.
- To the extent possible, try to declutter your kitchen and keep all necessary items within easy reach
- Knives and scissors with foam covers will prevent accidental cuts.
Dressing and grooming
Dressing and grooming are one of the most important aspects to take care of when caring for elderly parents. Unfortunately, they can be easy to forget about, at times. Dressing well and looking good can be critical to your elderly parents’ self esteem so do keep in mind how you can help them, help themselves to dress well!
- Use dressing aids such as dressing stick, button hook aids, lock laces on shoes, sock slider and shoe horns
- Clothing: Slip-on clothes should be preferred. Avoid buttons and use velcro instead, wherever possible
- Teeth: An Electric toothbrush might be a better option for the persons’ grip. Dentures should be regularly checked for cracks. Also, they need to be taken out at least once a day. Helping set them a reminder or an alarm for this (and other recurring daily activities) can be a lot of help.
- Skin Care: People confined to the bed are at risk of developing pressure ulcers. These can be avoided by following the below simple steps:
- Eat healthy, drink lots of fluids
- Keep the skin clean and dry.
- Urine and faeces should be cleaned immediately with water and soap
- Disposable bed pads can keep the bed dry in case of incontinence.
- Check regularly for rashes and change the position every 2-3 hours.
- Shaving: Preferably use an electric shaver since it is safer
Using the toilet
Safe and efficient use of the toilet is an integral part of aging in place. Using the toilet and cleaning up after having used one is something very basic and natural for most of our lives. Seeking help for something like that can itself be challenging for some.
Thankfully, we now have access to many inexpensive devices and equipment that can make the toilet safe. This can really help in making an elderly parent independent. Among other things, you can think of doing the following:
- Install a bidet. There are several options these days that are integrated with the toilet and allow the user to control the pressure, flow and temperature of the water flowing from the nozzle.
- Get an elevated toilet seat to raise the level a few inches higher. This ensures knees are straight when sitting on the toilet seat, thus making it easy to sit down and stand and reducing the likelihood of falling when getting up.
- If you do not need to raise the toilet seat, getting stand alone toilet rails will be a good idea. These rails can provide additional safety while sitting down and standing up from the toilet seat. Some of them come with a thoughtful storage rack to boot!
- Consider opting for a wearable medical alert system. This can be the crucial difference between life and death. In the event of an emergency, you need to have the device on you at all times and a mobile phone may or may not be on you. Medical alert systems can either alert an “Always on” specialist or a family member/friend
- Install a fall detection system in the bathroom. Several automated fall detection systems exist. You can program them to dial up emergency hotline numbers to alert you or 911 as per your requirement.
- Hot and cold water faucets should be marked clearly in bold colors and alphabets. The visual perception of seniors reduces over age, therefore all critical heating points should be marked very clearly.
- Grab bars can be real life savers. Install them near the toilet seat to ensure elderly parents can get up safely and smoothly.
Washing oneself is a very basic activity. While they look innocuous, most household accidents involve the bathroom. Thus it is extremely critical to make the bathroom a safe and inviting place if you are looking to help elderly parents become independent.
- Preferably install walk-in tubs, though these can be a bit expensive to get installed. If you are handy yourself, you can definitely save on the installation costs. They will ensure that the likelihood of an accident due to falling over a normal bathtub are reduced significantly.
- Consider buying a shower chair for your elderly parents. They can sit on one and bathe without having to get tired.
- Bathtub transfer chairs are designed to make it easy for the elderly to get in and out of the bathtub. Consider buying one if your elderly parents have trouble getting in and out of the bathtub.
- A shower stepping stool can be another helpful piece of equipment to have. It can make it easier getting in and out of the shower or the bath tub.
- Detachable and height adjustable shower heads can make bathing a real pleasure for your elderly parents. These combined with a shower chair can provide a comfortable bathing experience.
- Bathtub safety treads or non-skid adhesive strips should be put in place to reduce moisture on the floor and bath tub. This can substantially reduce the chance of slipping.
- Grab bars (like the ones discussed for toilets above) for moving in and out of the shower are inexpensive safety devices. They can be instrumental in preventing slip and fall accidents.
- Remove locks on bathroom doors, or else install locks which can easily be opened from the outside, such as Thumbturns or privacy door knobs.
- Place foam rubber covers on faucets. This will significantly reduce the chances of an injury in the event of fall.
- Scalding – Put in anti-scald valves or thermostatic valves for controlling the temperature of the water flowing through the faucet. Single-levered faucets can also be handy for proper temperature control.
- Finally, if your elderly parent is not capable of cleaning themselves, you might need to take the help of a professional to give them a bed bath. Alternately, you can try to learn how to bathe an elderly person in bed on your own.
Believe it or not, as you grow old, shifting positions (for example sitting to standing) can be a pretty big challenge in itself. Think of the daily schedule of your elderly parent(s). They have shift or change their position from lying down to sitting to standing over and over again. If you can make it easier for them to do so, it will go a long way in giving them a measure of independence in their own house. Some things that you can possibly do are:
- Install bed rails or assist bars to help them get up from the bed easily. They are quite easy to install and maintain and can prevent falls. They come with padded with foam cushions for safety and easy grip.
- Install handrails near any kind of steps in the house
- A fall mat on either side of the bed can help prevent or reduce injuries in case of a fall from the bed.
- If they find difficulty in getting up from a lying position, another option could be a Hoyer Lift.
- Remove throw rugs from the floor. They can be tripping hazards.
- Keep pathways clear of furniture for easy movement throughout the house both by walking and by mobility devices.
- Replace all doorknobs with handles which are easier to open
- Consider buying lift chair recliners and standing aids like a portable lifting seat as shown below. They can be very helpful if your elderly parents find it difficult to stand up from a sitting position or are prone to losing balance when getting up.
- In case your parent(s) regularly uses a mobility device such as a wheel chair, consider installing temporary wheelchair ramps for easy access to different parts of the house.
- Most wheelchairs have a standard width. If your parents find it difficult to move inside the house, it may be a good idea to get a narrow width self propelled wheelchair. These are manual wheelchairs that they can use themselves. Some people also like keeping a light weight transport wheelchair at home. These are manual wheelchairs that need an attendant. You need to make sure that the wheelchairs in use can pass through all the main doorways and passages. Or else, you may have to consider spending time and/or money to widen doorways to ensure that mobility devices can pass through.
Managing Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADLs) for Elderly Parents Aging in Place
Different jurisdictions have different driving license rules when it comes to the elderly driving. Please make sure that your elderly parents are properly licensed to drive in the jurisdiction they live in. If your parents can still drive a car safely, you might want to make sure that the car that they are using has smart systems to help them drive. Ensuring movement for daily groceries and other chores
- Audible message systems in the car provide messages about safety which reduce the chances of sudden acceleration or deceleration and help reduce accidents
- Collision avoidance system help reduce reaction time in case of an impending collision
- Blind spot alert systems alert the driver if there is any vehicle in their blind spot
- Speed control systems warn before exceeding any approaching speed limits
- Intersection warning systems help drivers stop near dangerous intersections
- Lane change systems warn about lane changes without distracting the drivers attention
- Night vision enhancement systems improve pedestrians detection when driving at night
- Other advanced smart systems include adaptive cruise control systems, assisted parallel parking systems, active steering assist systems, brake assist systems and lane keeping systems
- A portable vehicle support grab bar is an easy to install piece of equipment that can make it more convenient for your parents to get in and out of the car
If your parents feel comfortable, ride sharing services like Uber and Lyft can be a hassle free and cost effective experience if the frequency of trips is limited. Public transport options have slowly been adapting to the needs of the elderly. Wheelchair accessibility and helplines are commonplace in most subways and city buses.
If your parent is able to walk, you should always encourage them to do so on a regular basis. Walking to nearby places is a good exercise to maintain fitness while also performing daily tasks. Walking can also be a great way to socialize and meet people in the community while they are out and about.
For travel over short distances, your parents can use a rollator walker, a power wheelchair or a manual wheelchair. They or their caregiver should discuss with their doctor or therapist to select the best option, suited to their lifestyle.
Managing finances such as paying utility bills, managing financial assets
Personal finances are always a touchy topic which people want to avoid discussing about even with their loved ones. However with approaching old age and sometimes, loss of mental faculties it is important to ensure that both continuity and contingency are covered. Therefore it is important to keep the following things in mind when it comes to personal finances for the elderly.
- Consolidate all important documents and put them together in safe keeping with a trustworthy person or at a place known to more than one person. Typically these documents would include:
- Wills – This is a critical document. Discussions around wills can be touchy. If you can, encourage your parents to make a will as per their choice. There are many online will services available that are not expensive and very convenient when making a simple will. Having personally used the services of Legal Wills, we are happy to recommend them. If you are in the US, you can click through here and if you are from Canada, this is your link. Using this link, you will get a 10% discount and we will get an affiliate commission. (At no extra cost to you affiliate commissions helps us maintain this website and bring our awesome content to you.)
- Bank and brokerage statements
- Insurance policies
- Pension records
- Home mortgage or reverse mortgage
- Car title
- Social Security payments
- Safe deposit boxes
- Ensure that a person who can be entrusted with managing the finances in case of loss of mental faculties is in charge of a “Power of attorney”. Depending on its structure, a power of attorney gives access to bank accounts, your safe deposit boxes etc as your nominee.
- Involve your spouse, who should have a complete understanding of your finances in case of your loss, especially if they are dependent on you.
- All legal documents should by handy such as:
- Durable power of attorney (authorizing someone to take medical care decisions for you in case you are not able to take the decision yourself)
- Advanced directive (Specifying what kind of medical care can or cannot be administered to you)
- Living trust: to empower a trustee to manage your trust assets in case you are unable to
- Will: which executes your wishes post your death
Shopping and meals
Your elderly parents can get true independence if they can manage their shopping and meal preparation on their own. While shopping for groceries is more regular, they might need assistance while shopping for other household items like clothes etc.
Shopping can be a daunting task for seniors. As cognitive abilities and eyesight as well as strength deteriorate with age, it is difficult to perform the tasks needed for shopping. Tasks like identifying and making a list of items, deciding where to buy them from, comparing different options and budgeting are tasks that become harder and harder to perform with age.
- With the proliferation of ecommerce, buying online has made shopping extremely convenient. Sites like Amazon and Walmart offer a plethora of products that can be bought online for a convenient delivery at your doorstep. Your elderly parents might need some encouragement but once they are hooked, they will appreciate the convenience of shopping online. You might want to introduce them to Amazon Prime for a faster delivery and some great entertainment options to boot.
- Many local grocery stores have started same day delivery facilities and grocery aggregator apps have also come out. You might want to check out the options available in our area.
- There are several organizations that provide volunteer or paid help to do shopping for seniors who are aging in place.
- If meal preparation is also a challenge, there are several prepared meal delivery organizations as well who provide at home delivery of food. A quick Google search will throw up quite a few options.
- Several home care agencies provide aides who can help prepare food at home for seniors.
The present generation of seniors has been used to doing handy work around the house themselves all their lives. They do not prefer to pay someone to do come in the house to do work that they could easily do themselves in the past.
Therefore, as a first step, it is important to help them realize that it is no longer prudent for them to be doing handyman work themselves. Not only can it be dangerous to themselves, with age and decreasing body strength, the quality of their work may not be the same as earlier and thus their repair work might endanger anyone else living or visiting the house.
It is the best to make sure that home maintenance tasks are not left up to them but are taken care of on a regular basis by you or someone whom you can hire.
Below are a few ideas and tips:
- Try to make sure that if any ladders are available at home they are not wobbly or rusting. Also discuss with your parents not to get on a ladder when no one else is around.
- Keep electrical problems at bay by regularly checking wires, sockets and plugs for fire hazards and electric shock.
- Find a good handy person on a monthly or seasonal basis to take care of fallen leaves and branches and ensuring water drainage is working properly. Handyman connection can be a good source of handymen (or handywomen) to help you out in time of need.
- A good lawn service can do routine yard work and clear off windows and walls which may have branches or leaves hitting into them.
- Manually inspect crawl spaces for fire hazards, water hazards and termites on regular basis.
- Check all light bulbs at regular intervals and replace ones that are old before they go out. You may consider switching to LED bulbs as they have a longer life and are very cost effective.
Managing communication(email/sms/phone usage, mail)
Seniors face several problems in doing basic communication tasks such as writing and sending email, calling someone or sending a text message.The reasons can range from poor eyesight to lack of mental capacity and can even be because of unwillingness to learn technology. Below we have listed technologies that help seniors communicate.
- Discuss with them getting senior friendly laptops and notebooks that are simple to use and have features like magnified text and text to speech.
- Sign up for senior friendly email such as pawpawmail.
- Invest in elderly friendly mobile phones with large character displays and large letter keypads
- Explore adaptive windows software like eldy, which convert windows into an elder friendly interface
- If it becomes difficult for them to take care of their communication themselves, consider looking at volunteer help. There are several organisations that can arrange for volunteers to help out with such daily tasks. You may even want to ask the trusted neighbor to chip in sometimes!
Managing medicines (includes buying and taking as per prescription)
Taking medication timely is critical to seniors’ health. The following simple steps can help your elderly parents have control over their supply and timing of taking medicines.
- Consolidate all currently used medications into a single, safe, cool and dry storage place. Create a backup bin for medications currently not in use.
- Have a medication list which has the latest, currently in use medication ready along with dosage, frequency, purpose and name of the healthcare provider who recommended it. This will help ensure that no unnecessary medication is being taken and that there are none that will negatively react with another on the list.
- Print out clear medication instructions on a page in big lettering and paste it where it is visible regularly, like on the fridge.
- Use a medication reminder system. Several are available as phone apps or as computer applications, if the parent is able to use those. Otherwise, type it up on a piece of paper to be stored along with the pill organizer
- Ensure that no medication reacts to any other medication in your list.
- Use a pill organizer to organize and sort medicines. Seniors with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia may need daily help for their medications. You might want to take the help of a caregiver or at the minimum use a pill box with alarm.
- Many online pharmacies allow you to subscribe to medication refills on a periodic basis. Local pharmacies may also provide this kind of service along with delivery facilities. Select a reliable source for medicines and ensure that a regular refill order is in place, with a buffer of at least 2 week’s stock when the next batch arrives.
To summarize, there are two types of options for seniors outside family caregiving – independent living and assisted living. Independent living , especially aging in place is the usual preference of most seniors. If home modifications and some minor changes are implemented to the house, it is very much possible for a senior to live a long and happy life by themselves, for the most part.
Deciding to cut back on caregiving for a parent is often an emotional decision. However, in many scenarios it can be a positive decision for both the parent and caregiver. You will not give them your best if you always feel tired of caring for elderly parents. Making them self reliant and less dependent on you will make everyone happier.