The Great Circle of Life...

BY MELISSA ROWE -- The decline of an aging parent is incredibly painful to witness. And no matter how well prepared you think you may be, caring for a loved one can be extremely difficult -- both physically and emotionally. 

As adult children though, we’ll all need to step in (or step up) at some point. And depending on the amount of care required, you’ll be helping out with the cooking, cleaning or becoming a personal chauffeur too. But by taking responsibility for an aging parent, you’ll be allowing them to live longer, and keep their negative emotions about growing old at bay.

Just remember, one day your children will be the ones supporting you in what’s famously known as the 'circle of life'. 

‘Switching places’ with an aging parent may feel like a strange concept at first. The people who once cared for us suddenly become the vulnerable ones. It’s a tragic reversal of roles that can impact the entire family. You’ll have to adjust your mindset because no doubt many of us will view caregiving as a burden. You’ll have to make sacrifices when it comes to work and leisure activities. And depending on the severity of your parent’s health, you’ll become the one who reminds them to pay bills, participate in social activities and take their meds.

So when it’s my turn to receive care, here are some things I hope my own children will keep in mind. 

1. Don’t treat me like a child
Role reversals are certainly challenging. I certainly don’t want that when it’s my turn! Not only is it demoralizing, but I certainly don't want to be made to feel humiliated and ashamed. Their approach to my changing needs should come from a place of love. And in some ways, this newfound duty may give them a renewed sense of purpose.

2. Be respectful
It’s common for aging parents to experience stress or depression while facing and adapting to a new way of life. Show sympathy by carving out some one-on-one time. I'm sure I'll still enjoy movies, nature walks, or Sunday brunch at that new cafĂ© down the street if I'm able to. These little activities may not seem like much to them. But it will get them out in the fresh air and give them something exciting to look forward during the week.

3. Don’t be shy about seeking outside care
There are so many experts out there who make a living taking care of others. Professional caregiving services can help fill in some of the gaps that can affect someone’s quality of life. Caregivers can provide the right attention, and even act as a companion. And if you’re feeling overwhelmed, be sure to delegate some of the caregiving duties to other family members who might be MIA too.

4. Be on the lookout for changes
Watch for any yellow flags. Changes in weight, memory, and even mood could signal a decline in overall health. Don’t make any assumptions or Google various health conditions (doctors hate that!). Instead, speak to a family doctor if something seems off. This simple action could save a life, or prevent something worse from happening.

5. Include me in decisions about my future
If possible, keep your aging parent in the loop about all decisions. These decisions can include anything from moving into a nursing home to scheduling an upcoming surgery. You don’t want your loved one to feel helpless when discussing next steps. Give them a sense of autonomy by keeping the lines of communication open. This will allow everyone to be on the same page, and your aging parent will be confident knowing they also have a say in their future.

With careful planning and ongoing support, family caregiving can be a rewarding experience. Be confident in your abilities. Take comfort knowing your aging parent is getting the care they deserve. After all, you know them best … which means you’re the perfect person to ensure their safety and happiness.

“You must take your place in the Circle of Life."
"You were put on the earth for a reason. You have a role to play in the world. Don’t get lazy and give up on things. There are people that need you in their lives, lessons you must learn and mistakes you must make. Take your place in the natural flow of things." The Lion King
Here are some recommended links that you my find interesting or useful:
Daily Caring: 7 Steps to Take When Aging Parents Need Help
Best Health Mag: The Hardships and Benefits of Caring for Aging Parents
E Caring; 9 Reasons to Care for Aging Parents at Home
Huff Post: 15 Ways to Stay Sane While Taking Care of Our Elderly Parents
The Atlantic: What Aging Parents Want from Their Children
Web MD: Role Reversal

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