Caring for Elderly Family Members: Questions and Considerations

reid and harry

Over the years as I got older I began to think more about how I might be able to help my parents when they got older and needed help with their lives. Mom and Dad lived happily together for 60 years, into their 80’s, and were planning on moving into an “old folks home” as their parents before them had. The biggest goal of my life was to sail 1000 Days Non-Stop at Sea. As I completed that voyage I began to think that eventually I would like to bring my partner, Soanya, and our newborn son Darshen, to their house to live and take care of them. In the meantime, Mom decided they wanted their independence and to live with other people their age, so they prepared to move into an assisted living housing complex. We completed our record breaking voyage and went on to do a sailing jungle adventure in Guyana. Mom went into the hospital for a shoulder operation where she caught an infection and died unexpectedly. It was a shock to our family.

I knew it was Mom’s idea to go into the assisted living home and not Dad’s, because he was not at all social and he didn’t want to sell the family home that he had been living in for forty years. I didn’t realize that Dad’s Alzheimer’s condition was more than just being forgetful at times. I decided my family and I would sail back from Guyana and move into the family home and take care of Dad. We sailed back to North Carolina, laid the schooner up on a dock and moved in with Dad where we are now taking care of him. Our lifestyle was very different from most people because we were sailors, but since we are all sons and daughters of parents who are aging, we must experience similar things as life goes on. Here are a few questions and pros and cons that I have had to consider as I committed to coming home.

I’ll start with the difficult questions.

  1. How easy will it be to live with one or both of your parents after you are grown?
  2. Can you live with a parent in a town not of your own choosing and are you willing to make the huge personal adjustment that requires?
  3. Moving into a parent’s home that they have been living in for a long time is difficult, especially with a small child, because how do you make it your own home too without unbalancing your parent?
  4. How do you deal with an aged parent’s friends, your friends and the friends of your children?
  5. How does your spouse or a child deal with a mentally disabled older person?
  6. How you deal with siblings who are not helpful or feel they have a right to come for a visit and demand changes in the family home that they once lived in years ago. How do you deal with feelings about siblings who show little interest in the aging parent’s situation?
  7. A very hard question to answer is, can a middle aged adult really give up a job, career or business and move or have a parent move in with them to care for a loved one in need?

These are some of the questions that need to be answered when anyone is considering taking on the full time care of a parent. It is very difficult for family members to face and answer these questions honestly and without feeling some guilt if they are not willing to compromise in certain areas of their life. The only “right answers” are the ones you can live with for the rest of your life.

On the other hand, there are many positive reasons for caring for an elderly parent.

  1. The family will save money. This is just a fact. It is not necessarily in the best interest of the parent or children, but being careful with money is always a consideration.
  2. The elderly person will receive better care generally speaking. Wouldn’t you want to be cared for by a loving child you raised rather than a paid attendant? Since Dad has Alzheimer’s he would have been “lost” in a senior home because nothing would be familiar which is very important for person with his condition. None of his siblings live in his home town. I walked down the hall of the assisted living center before we took him out and the old ladies all spoke up saying things like, “Isn’t he lucky to have a son.”
  3. If an elderly person is happy living in their own home, it may be best to make it possible for them to continue living there. Each situation is different of course.
  4. It may not be possible to talk someone into changing their life to make the decision to live with their parent in need. A person has to make their own deeply personal choice about that. If they choose to live with a parent they need to figure out what it is that makes them happy so that they can be the best caregiver they can be. How can a person be a good caregiver without being happy?
  5. I believe most people do good things for other people because they know it makes them happier. The old saying, “You have to love yourself before you can love someone else” applies here. I would not have been happy with myself if I had let Dad stay in an old folk’s home all by himself. He would have been lost. He would rarely get a visit. Like my brothers and sisters I would have been traveling all around and living in a place far away. Who knows how many times I would have been able to spend quality time with him before he died?
  6. The motivation for what I chose to do was based on love. Family Love. I always remembered how much my parents loved me and it made me who I am. Their love gave me vision and strength of conviction and they actively helped me to live my life’s dream. When there were hard times after our accomplishments, they were still there for us.
  7. Throughout my life, I always felt my Mom was there looking after me and I still do. I know she approves of me being with Dad and caring for him.
  8. I always identified with ‘ancestor worship,’ honoring those who came before us. The pictures of my grandparents and great grandparents look over all of us. They and my mother are forms of God. I connect to my roots and glorify God through them. I want them to approve of my actions. I don’t seek the approval of Dad. I just want him to live and be as happy as possible.

 

Since I had the desire to return some of the care my parents gave to me, I was willing to make big compromises and change my whole lifestyle in order to be there for them. I know it won’t be forever and I’m at a place in my life where I can do this. It isn’t always easy seeing my father so different from how I remembered him growing up, but in other ways, he is still the same person and I am glad to be here.

 

Written by Reid Stowe

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