What does it mean to care for an aging parent?

Receiving bills is an unfortunate consequence of having a mailing address. Every month, we are all delivered an assortment of financial statements prompting us to pay up for the services we utilized. Water, cable and credit card bills we anticipate, but what if one day you discover in your mailbox, a statement from your parents, a systematically itemized account of your childhood expenses printed on legal stationery? That's exactly what writer Bernard Cooper found and later titled his 2006 memoir "The Bill From My Father" in regard to the $2 million his father claimed was owed him.

While many of us may hear off-hand comments or repeated stories about the hours exerted in labor or more serious narratives of parental dreams put off so that we could attend our first-choice college, few of us are ever asked for monetary reimbursement for the time and effort that went into rearing us as children. However, the longer people live, the greater the numbers of adult children who learn that there does come a time to pay back their parents.

As parents get older, roles become switched as adult children become the caregivers. Sometimes, it's just giving a quick ride to the store, the way your mother might have chauffered you before you had a driver's license. In other situations, you may find yourself changing the diapers of the parent who once changed yours. Vanished is the hope and joy that comes from changing a baby's diapers, though; for adult children, it's enormously hard to watch a parent's independence and dignity stripped away.

But even as a caregiver's heart aches in that circumstance, at the very same time the caregiver may be resentful that he or she has fewer hours to be with his or her own family or on the job. The caregiver may be engrossed in a delicate dance with other family members worried about the aging parent, as well as navigating the new parental relationship. Caring for an older parent can truly create nerve-racking emotions that necessitate one's very best sense of humor, communication and organizational skills, as well as patience.

It may be heartening to discover, though, that in a national survey of caregivers,over 80 percent indicated that they found caregiving rewarding. That doesn't suggest it's not challenging, especially when you're placed into the role because of a crisis such as a stroke or a fall in the home.

Taking care of an aging parent means different things to different people.  It can also change with the changes that occur in the aging parent.  Once a parent begins to show signs that he or she can no longer care for him or herself, it could be that spending time each day taking care of little things for him or her is sufficient.  Things such as laundry, paying bills,  and running errands.

It may mean that the parent should no longer live alone.  In some cases, an adult child may want to have the parent live with them in order to keep closer tabs on the parent's health and personal care.  The time may come, when a decision has to made whether or not a parent is in need of more care that the adult child can provide.

Even if the parent is in an assisted living or skilled nursing facility, the care continues at home as well.  Its important that the parent have an advocate to ensure proper care, oversee medical visits, and take care of financial needs.  The role is ever changing as the health and well-being of the parent changes.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.