Helping Your Aging Parent – How To Take Charge Without Taking Over

How do you take charge without taking over?  This is a critical question for anyone who wants to help a parent make a timely transition successfully.

Timeliness, particularly when a parent is in good physical, financial and emotional health, are critical to avoid a change in those positive elements. Here’s the problem – a parent in good physical, financial and emotional health will want to continue to take care of themselves as they have for the preceding years in their life. They may no longer be as capable as they believe.

Keep in mind that showing is not doing! Making that mistake can often lead to anger when you do this when you are assisting someone with a task that he previously has been perfectly capable of handling himself or herself.

Acknowledging that you need help with the business of life is very difficult for anyone, let alone someone who has been taking themselves for decades longer than you’ve been alive! Getting agreement from your parent to let you help pay bills or balance the checkbook was probably difficult and likely met with continued resistance. The continued resistance is usually expressed as not understanding why you were insisting on helping since they are perfectly capable of doing it themselves.  As a child of an aging parent, keep in mind that if they come to the point where they need your help, it is the same as confronting their own limitations. So be sensitive!  In most cases, parents realize that this decreasing independence is not likely to reverse itself and that they will likely continue to need more assistance.

Here’s a simple checklist for helping you to take charge without taking over:

1. If possible, do the tasks alongside your parent. It may slow the process down, but helps your parents retain a degree of independence and self-esteem by keeping them in charge.

2. Let your parent tell you what parts of a particular activity with which they need help. Limit your assistance to those areas of the task until things change. You may, depending on your parents’ abilities, need to carefully and with sensitivity help them reassess their true capabilities.

3. Ask permission before you just start doing a task. Give your parent the respect their age and life experience warrants.

4. Make sure you have backups in place. In other words, figure out how to ensure your parent is cared for when life gets in the way. This is effectively a safety net for both you and them. Simple solutions are to ensure that someone stops by in-between your visits. This could be as simple as a daily phone call or as complex as another relative, a good friend who’s known your parents for years, or a professional service like a visiting nurse or senior companionship company stopping by sporadically.

5. Safety first! If your parents’ safety is on the line, you may have to take charge by taking over. Don’t confuse this with just wanting things done your way.

Keep your parent safe, comfortable, and happy – that’s the entire job description in order of importance!  Do everything you can to maintain the balance of physical, financial and emotional well-being for as long as possible.

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