The challenges of caring for elderly parents
Our parents bring us up and do everything for us when we are children, so it can come as a shock when they start to require care themselves. We know it will eventually happen, but it can be difficult to deal with when it does. We don’t want to see our parents, who have been strong authority figures throughout our lives, as people who are vulnerable or who need help.
But as people age or develop disabilities, this is a situation that many people have to face up to.
As a child of a person who needs care, you have a lot to consider and there are important decisions to make. You must consider your circumstances as well as the circumstances of your parent, and look realistically at what you will be able to do to contribute to their care.
It is also vital that you consult with your parents when thinking about their care needs, as the decisions that have to be made will affect them more than they affect you. They will be receiving the care, not you, and even if they are unwell or confused, they may be able to express preferences to you that you should take into account alongside your own needs.
You may have noticed that your parent has been struggling for a while… perhaps something sudden has happened, like a fall or an accident, that is making you look at their care needs in more depth now. Or perhaps a general decline in their physical, mental, emotional or cognitive health has been taking place. Either way, when long-term care is required for your parents, conversations must take place and decisions must be made.
Bear in mind that your parent or parents may initially resist your encouragement to get care and support. They have probably been independent for their whole adult lives and are not keen on any suggestion that they need to depend on anybody else to look after them. They may also be afraid that they will be forced to leave their beloved home and surroundings that are familiar to them.
You will need to approach this topic with sensitivity. It is not easy to have these conversations, but it is important to persist. Explain that you do not think they are safe on their own without support, or that you are worried they are struggling to manage. Persuading parents to accept help can be difficult, but there are ways to lead the conversation so that everybody is open and honest about their hopes and fears.
Assess your needs and make a plan
Every person is different, so the care they need must be tailored to suit their requirements. This is not a one-size-fits-all situation, so assessing your parents’ needs will be essential.
Part of this assessment will be to look at the professional help your parents need. They may want to resist this, but you should present them with options rather than a ‘done deal’. Choices can be made and your parents’ preferences can be accommodated. For instance, looking at at-home carers rather than residential care may reassure your parents that they can remain in their home and be appropriately supported by familiar, friendly staff.
How to get a care plan
It will be important to make a care plan. This is a document that sets out the support your parents need and it is achieved by requesting an assessment from social services. The care plan will include recommendations on the support that is required and will set out a ‘personal budget’, which is the amount that the council will contribute towards paying for this care.
Share your care responsibilities
You will also want to look at informal plans as well as professional help. What can different family members do to help share responsibilities with you, and with any carers who are brought in? This can be difficult to negotiate as some people will work full time or live further away, so may not be able to contribute much practical help. It is crucial to be realistic about what can be done.
However, even people who are not able to help with practical caring responsibilities could take on other tasks, such as planning, research or organisation.
Living aids and help from charities
Look, too, for charities or organisations that can help. A local charity for elderly people or a national organisation for people with, say, Alzheimer’s disease or arthritis may not be able to offer care support, but they may have support groups for your parents or for their carers – including you – to attend.
You can also consider living aids that can help. For somebody who struggles to walk, a zimmer frame or a walking stick can make a big difference to their sense of independence and ability to get around, while equipment around the house, such as a walk-in bath or a stair lift, can help them to remain happily at home when otherwise they may have struggled.
Understand your care options
A big decision you and your parents have to make is about whether they will receive at-home care or whether they will move into a residential care home. While care homes offer more opportunities for social interaction, care at home can allow your parents to stay in their own houses, while still receiving the tailored level of support they need. Find more information about the benefits and downsides of at-home care and residential care homes.
Other available options include:
Sheltered housing / supported accommodation – elderly or disabled people move into self-contained homes, often flats or bungalows, with some shared facilities and communal areas
Assisted living – this is similar to sheltered housing, but care professionals are available to help
Adult day care centre – somewhere elderly or disabled people can go to during the day to receive social support, meet other people in their situation, and get out of the house
Nursing home – an alternative to a residential home that provides nursing care as well as personal care
Talk to specialists and those involved in your parents’ care, such as their GP, any social workers involved or staff at any respite care centres they may have stayed at for shorter periods in the past. What would they recommend?
Talk to your parents, in depth, about what they have planned and how they want their care to be. They will have given this serious consideration and they will have seen their friends and acquaintances receive care; they will have opinions and concerns, and these must be addressed.
How to pay for your care
People are often concerned about how they will pay for the care they need. The answer is rarely simple and will involve financial assessments and a frank look at what is affordable and what they will be able to contribute.
Another thing to bear in mind is that your parents may need more support from you than you have previously been able to offer, and this could mean that you consider going part-time at work to help to support them. This will not only have an impact on your own finances, it will also affect how much you are able to help them to pay for additional care.
Our Funding Care Guide offers an in-depth look at how funding for care actually works and is a good place to refer to when having these essential discussions.
Where to find practical and emotional support
It can be difficult for families to cope with the changes when an elderly parent receives care for the first time. If you have been offering informal care for a while, you may find yourself burning out, and if you expect to provide care in the medium to long term, this is a serious issue that you must consider and prepare for.
Professional carers can take the pressure off you, providing some or all of the care that your parents need.
By the time a family is considering care support for their parents, they have probably already been providing care of some kind. Considering having professionals help is just formalising what has already been taking place. Looking at professional care is a difficult shift to come to terms with, but it should be one that benefits everybody involved. Transitions can be tricky, and everybody will need some time to get used to the new normal.
If you feel your emotional health in being impacted by your caring responsibilities, consider taking some time off, if possible:
Take time for yourself when you can. Go to the hairdressers, the cinema or even just for a walk in the park when you have some time for yourself.
Request compassionate leave from work if your parent is suddenly more disabled than they have been, so that you can take time to look after them until care is in place, without worrying about your professional responsibilities at the same time.
Consider downloading a meditation or mindfulness app to your phone and using even short meditations or breathing exercises when you have a few minutes to spare.
Write in a journal about what you are going through and how you feel about it.
Plan your days so that you know when you are working, when you are caring for your parents and when you are relaxing. Write lists and cross things off when they are done.
Get exercise when you can. Going for a run or spending half an hour at the gym can get out your frustrations and keep you fit.
Self-care is also absolutely vital when you are caring for somebody else. Eat well, sleep well and enjoy relaxing baths or occasional massages when you have time.
You might also contact the following organisations that can offer information or support:
You can also download SuperCarers’ Funding Care Guide for useful tips on how to pay for your care.
Prefer to chat? Call us on 020 8629 1030 and one of SuperCarers’ care advisors will give you all the information you need about the best care-at-home options for your parents.