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Role reversal: When the time comes to take care of Mom and Dad
By Laura Lohmeier
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Role reversal: When the time comes to take care of Mom and Dad

It’s a simple fact: Americans are getting older and living longer. Not surprisingly, this has resulted in more and more adults caring for their parents as they age.

There are different ways people become caregivers – sometimes it happens quickly when a parent suffers a stroke or a fall, and other times a condition (like dementia) worsens over time until one day you realize independent living is no longer a viable option.

While it isn’t a fun topic to discuss, talking about the future wishes of family members can remove the guesswork when someone is no longer able to make decisions for him or herself. This advance discussion and planning can greatly reduce stress and feelings of guilt on behalf of the caregiver.

These tips and resources can help you or a parent plan for care as you age:

Talk about it early and delicately

It is a tough conversation to have, but it’s important to discuss these issues while parents are still healthy and living independently. You will have peace of mind knowing your parents’ wishes and – should the time come – you won’t have to make these difficult decisions alone (and wonder if you made the right choices). It’s always a good idea to involve other members of the family too, if they will be involved in any future caregiving plans. Know that this is a hard issue for your parents to discuss. Respect their feelings and try again later if they aren’t ready to talk about something, unless their health or safety is at risk.

You can get the conversation going by focusing on these key issues:

  • Where they live
    • Is their home still safe for them? Are there things you can do to make it safer?
    • Have they thought about eventually living somewhere else when they can no longer manage on their own?
  • Everyday activities
    • Do they need assistance with household chores?
    • Are they able to cook and prepare meals?
    • Can they communicate via telephone?
  • Getting around
    • Can they safely get out of bed or a chair?
    • Are they able to maneuver around the house independently (whether by walking, using a walker/cane or a wheelchair?)
    • Can they drive safely, or can other means of transportation be arranged?
  • Health
    • Have they seen their doctor lately? What does their doctor say about their health and independence?
    • Do they have trouble managing their prescriptions?
  • Finances
    • What kind of health insurance do they have? Does it cover their needs?
    • Are they able to pay for everything they need?
    • Have they planned financially for additional assistance they might need in the future?

Often times, simple arrangements can be made to help someone live independently as long as possible. For instance, you can install railings or lifts to help them with mobility around the house. You can hire a car service to assist with errands or appointments. Or pre-prepare meals so they can easily reheat dishes instead of cooking on their own.

Take care of yourself and get support

If your parent has reached the point where they need additional help, you have a right to decide how much time you can devote to taking care of them. Often times, duties are split among siblings. Put a plan in place that works for your family. If caring for a loved one is becoming more than you can handle – or you don’t have the means to give them the help they need – there are additional resources available in the community. Caring for an elderly parent isn’t necessarily a burden. Put a plan in place that works for your family. Think of it as a time to connect with your parent and learn more about them. You are making a difference in your parent’s life and the experience can be quite rewarding.

Do you have these important documents completed? Everyone should!

  • Living Will. A living will states your decision to not have life-prolonging measures taken if there’s no hope of recovery (such as brain damage or terminal illnesses). Visit to download and complete your Living Will.
  • Durable Power of Attorney (POA) for Health Care Decisions. A durable power of attorney for health care allows you to name someone you trust to make health care decisions for you if you are incapable of making a decision yourself (for example, if you are under anesthesia or in a coma). Visit to download and complete your durable power of attorney for health care.

Signs your elderly parent needs additional care:

  • Disheveled clothing or wearing the same clothing day after day
  • Cluttered, dirty or disorganized house
  • Spoiled groceries
  • Poor personal hygiene
  • Depression, or loss of interest in once-loved hobbies
  • Forgetfulness or confusion with everyday tasks
  • Trouble getting up while seated

Learn more.

A great source of information is LifeLong Links, Iowa’s Network of Aging and Disability Resource Centers. They can help you decide which local programs and state resources may help you and your loved one, and it’s free of charge! Contact them at (866) 468-7887.


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