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3 Ways to Support an Aging Relative

All of us will be here one day, if we aren’t already: a parent or other loved one grows older and starts needing support. You want to respect their independence, but you also want to make sure they have the resources they need to stay healthy and enjoy their golden years. What do you do? How do you best support them?

Here at Bethesda Senior Living Communities, our friendly teams are always available to talk through any questions you may have about assisted living and memory care. We recognize the decision to move into an assisted living community is not always easy, so our job is to help you do what’s best for your loved one.

With that in mind, here are three general suggestions for supporting an aging relative:

1. Approach your loved one with empathy.

Aging isn’t always easy. Every person and every family are different, but it’s a common scenario for an adult child to become frustrated with Mom or Dad. The aging parent may appear stubborn or irrational in refusing to talk about the possibility of assisted living, and you may want to say, “I just want what’s best for them. Why can’t they see this?”

If this scenario sounds familiar, try to cultivate empathy and recognize the limitations of your own perspective. Asking someone to talk about assisted living, or even in-home care, is a major change. Your loved one may be worried about losing autonomy, or they may feel like everything is OK with their lives.

And they may be right—it’s important to recognize that they may know what’s best for them right now. Try to put yourself in their mind and understand what they’re feeling before you come charging in with any solutions.

2. Check in regularly.

Isolation is one of the biggest threats an aging senior may face. Not only are there risks such as falling, or being unable to perform routine tasks such as cleaning the house, but there are also emotional risks to living alone. If you live nearby, try to schedule lunch or dinner once or twice a week, and make sure they have an extended social circle—through their church or in the neighborhood—so they aren’t always alone.

Even if you don’t live nearby, call them up. Ask them how their day is. See what medical appointments they may have coming up, or if they’re doing anything with friends. You should respect their privacy, but make sure they know you’re around if they need anything. Sometimes, all a person needs is someone to talk to.

3. Plan ahead with the hard conversations.

Adult children are in a strange spot. The parents who raised them eventually reach a point where they need help. But they aren’t children. They have a lot of accumulated wisdom, a lifetime of independence, and their own wishes about how they live as they age. In addition to starting from a place of empathy, it’s important for adult children to keep in mind this is a participatory rather than an authoritarian process.

That said, you do have to have the hard conversations—and the sooner the better. As with any advanced planning, it’s ideal to have these conversations well before you need to. Without prying into the nitty-gritty details of your parents’ finances, it’s a good idea to have a general sense of where they stand and what they may need.

Equally important, it’s good to know what they want: do they envision downsizing to an independent living community that has continuum of care, or do they want to stay in their home for as long as possible? What do they want when they reach the point where they need regular care?

If you have these conversations early, it gives everyone time to get on board with a plan. Taking time to plan ahead gives you the chance to get to know the retirement options in your area, tour assisted living communities, arrange finances and more. That way, when the time comes, no one is making any tough decisions under duress.