easy to follow advice on taking care of your elderly parent

So you’ve decided that taking care of old people is something you want to learn more about. Perhaps you and your elderly parent are now in crisis mode, with a sudden decline in abilities or hospitalization and now you need expert help fast! You have come to the right page. Taking care of old people is a noble responsibility but not an easy one.

First off to let you in on a secret, they don’t like to be called “old people”. 

Each one of them is a unique individual who has had a lifetime of experiences and has fulfilled many roles in their lifetime. They may have been a daughter, a sister, a mother, an aunt, a grandmother or a great grandmother. They may have been a son, a brother, a father, an uncle, a grandfather or a great-grandfather.  They may have been an engineer, a banker, a home maker, a dancer, a warrior, a gardener, a police officer, career military, a golfer, a romantic partner etc. 

“Old People”, to my mind appears a single flat description, just like you, they have many dimensions and facets to their lives, some of which now drives their behaviors.  They are the sum total of their lifetime of experiences. So referring to them as “Old People”, doesn’t quite capture that lifetime of experiences does it? 

But you landed on this webpage because you need some information and obviously you are a considerate and caring person in wanting to know more information about how to take care of your elderly parent or other loved one. I will tell you that the sum total of that loved one’s experiences as well as your own, will definitely need to be taken into consideration when providing care for them. There are many reasons the elderly parents come to the point where they need caregivers (note the plural use of the word, more on that later) help. I hope that I can share my clinical expertise that I normally share with both paid and unpaid caregivers in multiple settings such as a hospitals, home health agencies, assistive living facilities, memory care units, nursing homes, outpatient clinics and rehab units. Additionally, I learned so much more taking care of my own parents and my brother before they passed than I ever did in occupational therapy school or in my clinical settings. It is my hope to provide some guidance and help smooth the path for caregiving for others who decide to take the care of their elderly parents.

It is only been recently that people have been placed into nursing homes, or since the 1990s into assisted living facilities. Not all folks benefit from these places as no one is going to care for your loved one like you will. You will see their day-to-day changes and know their personal likes and dislikes and idiosyncrasies like no staff member in one of these very high staff turnover facilities can know. The downside of this is there is no one typically to relieve you, so for a lot of us, it is 24 hours, 7 days a week caregiving and leaving full-time work which can make your position as a sole caregiver very stressful, hence the use of the plural version- caregivers above, you cannot and should not expect to follow this path alone.

When I was caretaking for my elderly father who had dementia, I found that even with all the many years of skills as an occupational therapist, it was not enough. I needed to hire additional help for him at our home. (see hiring caregivers page)  I worked a full-time job as a caregiver and was raising two boys as a single mom it was very challenging for me to provide the best care possible for him. I had to make changes to my life and my lifestyle to accommodate him, and prioritize my family. At this point I have no regrets and was grateful that I could make the last years of his life fun and surrounded by loving family. There are many, many issues that I plan to address when it comes to providing care for an elderly parent. Even with all the experience that I had, I did not know everything but I hope to share as much as I learned with you, in the hope of easing your burden of caregiving but also deepening your relationship with your loved one to one that enriches both of your lives.

My dad was 79 years old, when he first came to live with me. I had left our home to see a home health patient for just over an hour, in that time. He was active and agile enough to get onto his hands and knees and able to load wood into the fireplace and light the fire, but not cognitively intact enough to realize and problem solve how to open the damper on the fireplace to let the smoke out after he started the fire, cue coming home to fire trucks in my driveway- note that he did have enough cognitive ability to open the windows in the house and let the smoke out and get outside. Did I think it would occur to him to get on his hands and knees to light a fire in the fireplace in the middle of a hot summer day? No it never occurred to me. Note this was photo was taken 2 years later at 81 he could still do it but with supervision this time.