Helping Elderly Parents Make Decisions

Helping elderly parents make decisions can be a challenge for adult children when doubts exist about making the right decisions. Becoming a caregiver for an aging parent can result in high levels of stress, anxiety, and physical injury. Caregiving responsibilities can also impact career advancement, income, family responsibilities, and the caregiver’s health.

Decision-making for elderly parents is a tricky situation. Aging parents may be at the stage where adult children fulfill small requests for assistance. Tasks like yard work, picking up prescriptions, or running errands are often the beginning of adult children transitioning from “helping out” to becoming caregivers for parents.

Adult children don’t realize that they are caregivers for parents until someone, usually a medical professional, asks or speaks to a child with reference to being the caregiver. By the time children are attending medical appointments with elderly parents, caregiving responsibilities are on the rise.

Acclimating to the Subtle Changes of Aging

Becoming involved in medical care may seem routine to adult children caregivers of aging parents, especially if one of the reasons for task assistance is a physical disability or health concern. Elderly parents may become physically exhausted standing for periods of time—making it challenging to prepare meals in the kitchen.  If a parent has knee or hip issues—walking up and down the steps to wash laundry may be painful or risky due to prior falls or injuries.

Rather than being concerned about the combination of physical ability or health changes, many aging adults assume these variations to be part of aging. Assumptions about the connection between health and aging can result in permanent health issues that may be difficult to reverse. Helping elderly parents make decisions involves learning about aspects of health and aging that affect the quality of life today and in the future.

Aging parents and adult children caregivers acclimate to small changes that can become significant over time. Changes relating to aging may be subtle but more noticeable year to year. Increases in the time devoted to care for an elderly parent may creep up slowly until an adult child is devoting ten to twenty hours a week to tasks and other assistance.

There may be so much to do that caregivers don’t know what to do first. Instead of organizing and planning, they find themselves running from request to request and feeling like they will never catch up.

Being Unaware of What’s Next

When families—elderly parents and adult children—manage the day-to-day situations of home life and health without insight into what can happen next, many are caught off guard by unexpected situations. A simple example is a parent with high blood pressure who fails to follow through with taking medications and physician recommendations who then experiences a life-affecting stroke.

Neither the parent nor the child attending the medical appointment knew what questions to ask about the condition or potential consequences. As a result of the stroke, the parent needs more daily care and more time from adult children because of physical disabilities unlikely to improve.

Adult children caregivers may notice memory issues or confusion and relate these to the stroke. However, when attending medical appointments with a parent, no questions are asked.

All of these little things, not taking medications, following through with physician recommendations, and a failure to ask questions result in an eventual firestorm of decision-making for elderly parents. By learning the importance of being proactive to discuss concerns with elderly parents, adult children have the opportunity to prevent situations from intensifying in severity.

Reacting to Crises and Caring for Elderly Parents

In a perfect world, the moment parents ask for help from adult children, conversations about aging and care needs happen. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case. Being unaware of what’s next is the primary danger of caring for elderly parents. Not realizing that experts can help families initiate conversations and plan for what’s ahead is also common.

Helping elderly parents make decisions has many moving parts and pieces. One of the primary discussions should be about family relationships—who is available and willing to provide care and assistance.

After family discussions about care, elderly parents and children should discuss medical decisions that can be a consequence of financial and legal decisions. Decision-making for elderly parents and all adults specific to aging and health involves the three-legged stool of healthcare decisions, financial planning, and legal aspects.

Talking about medical wishes, money, and legal aspects of care are unfamiliar areas for most family members. These critical discussions and decisions fall by the wayside. Parents or adult children caregivers are likely unaware of the consequences of not making time to talk and plan in these areas.

Suddenly, another health issue happens for a parent, and the family feels even more unprepared and stressed out than before about helping elderly parents make decisions. Making significant and consequential decisions under emotional stress is the worst possible scenario, even though it happens all the time to unsuspecting families. Reacting to crises and caring for elderly parents becomes routine for adult caregivers.

Helping Elderly Parents Make Decisions

Eldercare decisionsFamily caregivers feel uncertain and uncomfortable in many areas of caring for elderly parents. Care previously provided in nursing homes and hospitals has been transferred to the responsibilities and duties provided by family caregivers. Adult children continue to do more and more to help elderly parents stay at home.

Caregivers struggle to find resources and successfully navigate the healthcare maze that often feels like prevention of care instead of supporting care for elderly parents. Healthcare bias exists, making it more difficult for naïve caregivers to get needed medical care for parents.

Mistakes in care and decision-making occur when caregivers are time-pressured. Mental and emotional stress can result in poor decision-making and unintentional neglect. Caregivers make decisions in crises situations and then regret making uninformed choices that don’t turn out as expected.

Gaining Confidence Through Caregiver Support Programs and Courses

Family caregivers gain confidence in decision-making and planning for the care of elderly parents through participation in caregiver support programs and courses offered by experienced caregiving experts. Corporations and groups that sponsor expert caregiving programs are at the forefront of changing how the world looks at family responsibilities for care.

Caregiving is a labor of love that affects all aspects of life. Caregivers who work and care for elderly parents are essential supports for society and overburdened healthcare systems.

Cultural beliefs, religious background, family upbringing, education, and life experiences frame views about the duty and responsibility to care for elderly parents. Even still, caregivers worldwide have many shared experiences, fears, and doubts about caring for elderly parents.

Caregiving Is an Everlasting Journey

Through the journey of caring for elderly parents, adult children have the opportunity to learn the effects and importance of self-care and support of well-being. Unfortunately, after caregiving ends for elderly parents, caregivers are exhausted.

The desire to return to life before caregiving overshadows the ability to take the experience of caring for elderly parents and relate this to the caregiver’s health and relationships with elderly children and spouses. After caring for elderly parents, the next most likely situation is the care of a spouse or a change in the caregiver’s health that necessitates care.

The stress resulting from the role of caregiving is significant. Worsening or new health diagnoses result from caregivers failing to attend doctor appointments and follow through with self-care during caregiving years. Rather than learn from the experience of elderly parents who neglected their health, caregivers set aside the knowledge gained and are likely to pass their caregiving needs down to their children.

However, when caregivers view the experience of caring for elderly parents as an opportunity to create a plan for their retirement and elder years, the lessons gained can have positive results. Caregivers who seek advice from elder care experts can ensure that spouses, partners, and children know their wishes for care.

The act of helping elderly parents make decisions can help adult children make decisions about their desires. Instead of uncertainty, family members or appointed agents of adult children who have made plans will have clarity and confidence about making health and financial decisions.

Are you looking for more information about helping elderly parents make decisions? Pamela’s course Taking Care of Elderly Parents or How to Get Guardianship of a Parent may be the information you’re seeking.


© 2021 Pamela D Wilson, All Rights Reserved

About Pamela Wilson

PAMELA D. WILSON, MS, BS/BA, NCG, CSA helps caregivers and aging adults solve caregiving problems and manage caregiving needs through online programs, live support groups, and an extensive caregiving library that includes articles, podcasts, videos, and webinars.

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