Articles

Helping you navigate through the second half of life with clarity, vision and purpose

Boomers and Our Aging Parents

© 2013 Brenda Dineen | Reprinting permission with credit to author

We are now facing a Longevity Revolution. Only thirty years ago, life expectancy was 71 years for men and 79 for women (StatsCan.) Now, many seniors are living well into their 80s and 90s. The Baby Boom generation is the current ‘sandwich generation’, caring for aging parents as well as facing the needs of our adult children, who may still be dependent on us. This is dramatically changing the picture for modern families. This means that elder parents may need extended care and support as they live longer lives.
This extended lifespan has big implications. Some seniors still enjoy good health and an active life in their 80s, while many others are having health issues, illness, and cognitive decline. Aging can bring with it increased dependency and vulnerability.

If you have aging parents, the lives of everyone in your family may be affected including siblings and grandchildren. Many people are feeling the demands and challenges of trying to meet these needs as well as to find some balance in life.

Here are some of the possible impacts in your family: 

  • Communicating and Decision-Making – This may pose some challenges if there has not been a history of talking together effectively.
  • Geography – Many family members live in different cities or provinces. This poses problems as to who is going to take care of an aging parent who lives far away; as well, how will distant siblings be involved?
  • Emotions – A roller-coaster of emotions is common, including stress, overwhelm, anger, resentment, frustration and depression.
  • Caregiving – The burden of care often falls on the siblings, more commonly the women than the men.
  • Respecting the parent’s needs – Family members need to know and respect the wishes of the elderly parent and to include them as much as possible in decisions and conversations. If dementia is present, this can be a significant challenge.

A number of my clients are caring for an elderly parent. One woman has been taking a few trips a year abroad to care for her 93-year-old mother. She is the sole person who advocates for her mother and meets with the doctors and caregivers onsite; as well she phones long distance and emails between her visits. Although this has been a huge responsibility in this woman’s life, she feels called to do the best she can for her mother.

My own mother is now 90. Last summer she fell and broke her leg, resulting in a hospital stay for the last few months. It is very hard to accept that things will not be the same, as her level of mobility is changing. Everyone in my family is affected by the decline in my mother’s health. She has had an extraordinary life full of adventure and activity and now is facing significant losses.

Looking at your own life, do you have an elderly parent who needs care? Or did you have a parent who died after a lengthy illness and extended caregiving by you or others in the family? What is this experience like for you? Are you able to balance all the demands you are facing?

Some questions to address in your family:

  • What is each person’s role and what are the expectations of family members?
  • Who assists in getting the elderly parent the necessary medical assessments and support?
  • How does your family best have conversations together and address what is needed?
  • Who are the decision-makers and to what extent is the elderly parent part of the process?

It is important for the caregivers to practice self-care, and to avoid burnout. The work of the caregivers can be taken for granted but they need to be included in the process. This includes attention to:

  • identifying what your needs are and being aware of your stress levels
  • being knowledgeable about the aging process, community resources, etc
  • finding best ways of offering and asking for help
  • having a support system and avoiding being isolated

I have touched on just a few issues in this big topic of caring for aging parents. I would like to hear from you, my readers. What are your experiences? Have you had some triumphs or some challenges? Is there something you would like me to address in my newsletter on this or related topics?

Whatever your situation, it is important to practice self-care and get help navigating through the caregiving process. A clinical counselor who specializes in family issues in the second half of life can give you the support you need.

Warm wishes,
Brenda