Coping with Aging Parents

One of the issues I see people facing both in my personal life and my professional life is coping with aging parents. There are inevitable issues such as health and losing them that we all have to face. I recently met an EAP counselor that specialized in these issues and we talked about how challenging these situations are and how easy it is to become overwhelmed and lose focus on your own life. We also talked about how ill prepared people are for death in general.

When faced with coping with these situations I encourage people to be proactive. It is so much easier to get supports in place ahead of time rather than when the crisis hits. That being said it usually doesn’t happen for a variety of reasoning including denial of the situation, resistance on behalf of the parent, or inability to access services. If you are facing a crisis I would encourage you to use all available resources. If you work for a company with EAP benefits most offer a counselor who can help you navigate the system and get support. It is a great resource that is generally under utilized because people do not know about it. Also depending on where your parents live there are usually local Offices of Aging that can offer support and referrals. Many times they will even do a home visit to assess what your parent needs and what they are eligible for. There are also paid case managers that do this work if there are resources available to pay for it. As a social worker I always encourage people to get a social worker involved in these situations whenever you can. Social workers know how to navigate systems quickly and understand benefits. Anyone who has tried to help his or her parents with Medicare can understand the value of that.

If you become a caregiver I would also encourage you to use the resources to establish counseling for yourself. Whether it is individual therapy or a caregivers support group it is important to also take care of you. Remember what they always tell you on an airplane, you have to put your oxygen mask on first.

If you lose your parent I would encourage you to also establish a support network of people that understand that loss. Grief is a crazy ride and it is better to share it with someone else who understands that.

If your parents are healthy and doing well be sure to take the time to ask any questions you have of them. Get the stories out of them. Consider taping them or video taping them. Often after a loss there is a wish to know things and taking the time to hear the stories while they are doing well can be a gift to both you and your parent.

Finally if you are estranged from your parents then try and find some support to cope with any issues that may come up around that. You may still feel like you have to step in and help if they are ill or perhaps you can’t. I encourage everyone to make the best decision for themselves and to get support for it.

I would also encourage people to talk about these experiences with others. We can only receive support if we share our experiences. You will often be surprised by who will step up and be supportive to you.

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