Important Lessons You Need to Know When Caring for Aging Family Members
As we move through the stages of life, there is an overwhelming fear of losing our place in the world—our purpose and connection to those around us. These are normal feelings that rise to the surface, especially for our loved ones in their elder years, but it’s how we listen and how we provide support, which makes all the difference.
The aging process is not easy. Not only for those experiencing it but for family members that play a caregiver role. While caring for aging family members, I have learned important lessons founded in love and support.
1. Technical Support
“What is my password?” is a question I used to fear most when I would visit my family. One simple technical question would lead down a rabbit hole of recovering user names and resetting passwords for a variety of applications. It was the vortex I used to avoid at all costs.
But after a few years, it’s become a scenario that is both anticipated and quite comedic. It’s come to the point where I ask my family for their technical support list as soon as I’ve settled into their house. My family will hand me a very organized (typed) list of the scars obtained from their most recent battles with the digital frontier.
Of all the scenarios encountered (accidental social medial account setups to missing account information), passwords have had the most deadly technical impact. In addition to safely storing important passwords for your family to locate with ease, it is helpful to keep a copy for yourself in the event the original versions get misplaced (this does happen).
2. Quality Time
During quarantine, migrating from face to face visits to video chats was definitely a challenge, but once we removed the technical obstacles (this could be a separate article), it provided a sense of comfort and support, even if from a distance.
Through these intimate moments, I learned even more about many aspects of my family’s childhood experiences—from their love of the written word (runs in the family) to the real reason behind their chosen professions.
It’s incredible to be on the receiving end of such vivid detail born from their cognitive focus — stories that bring them so much joy. Reflecting on the past can bring beautiful memories to the forefront.
3. Laughter is the Medicine
There is much truth to the age-old phrase “Laughter is the best medicine,” therefore it’s worth sharing here. This expression has been used often over the years, but it’s because it’s the best medicine.
Sharing chain email jokes (yes, there are still a few of those floating around) and chatting about funny stories or events, helped to break up the daily monotony. My family and I now have a challenge going to see who can share the best jokes or funniest scenarios witnessed that week.
With all the tragedy in the world combined with the physical and mental pain that our loved ones can endure, there needs to be an outlet. A place they can go and let those euphoric sounds erupt into a beautiful display of humanity.
4. Activities of Daily Life
Elements of independence are essential for aging family members. Even if there are certain tasks of daily life or self-care elements that require external support, it’s important for them to understand aspects of their life that they can manage. Promoting their ability to handle daily tasks within their range creates a sense of confidence for them.
Within the realm of independence, having a routine can add structure. Keeping their house organized allows for ease of use in locating items. Recently, my family found a desire to purge unwanted items and reorganize their living spaces. Removing the chaos created a space of serenity, providing an environment allowing for more mental flexibility.
Healthcare is an area that can not be overlooked. It’s important for your family to maintain regular doctor appointments.
In addition to your family being aware of this important aspect of preventative health, it is key as caregivers to obtain their doctors’ information. In certain scenarios, it might be helpful to have yourself added as an authorized representative or power of attorney. This can help reduce stress and create a support line for your family’s healthcare needs.
My family recently changed doctors therefore this information has been helpful to have on hand—in the same respect that our family ensured to have this information on hand when we were children. It gives me comfort in knowing I can contact their doctors if I have concerns about their health, or if my family is trying to hide the results of their recent bloodwork (because they know I will remind them again of the importance of healthy eating habits). I am sure some of you have those types of family members.
Along the lines of attending regular appointments, it’s important for your family to understand their prescribed medications (if any). Medication therapy management is essential to ensure your family is not impacting their health or daily living by intaking medications that do not align with them psychologically or physiologically.
Another essential component is healthy eating. This is definitely an aspect of life that I struggle with myself, and even more so for my family. If your family is not able to cook as often as they used to, instead of relying on takeout for daily meals, there are many food service companies that prepare healthy meals without preservatives. My family has found this to be a huge assist to their daily life — receiving healthy meals delivered weekly to their doorstep.
Finding the balance between your daily responsibilities and your family’s needs is of utmost importance. If you are not grounded, a foundation of support will be hard to cultivate without unintentionally creating tension, anger, and resentment.
It is ok to live your life too. Repeat these words. Do not feel guilty for living out your life in tandem with supporting a family member. Remember, they had a life when they were your age. This is something I have to remind myself of quite frequently as I can get lost a sea of thoughts about their aging process and responsibilities in my life.
Love — last, but not least. In fact, it’s the most important piece here, which is why I saved it for the end.
We often feel so much in our minds, and while actions are a reflection of our emotions, it’s also key to verbalize how you feel. Tell your family you love them even if you know they feel it, even if you know they know it.
Aging is a scary process. To know that they are alone, to be reminded that they have a tribe that has their best interests at heart, carries more weight than gold.
Don’t forget to show them your love and appreciation. Life gets busy and it’s messy, but never forget to make your family understand how much they mean to you. They are the only family you have. As people get older, some struggle to feel needed, but they are always needed. They need to know this.
Everyone’s scenario is different as it relates to the care needed for their aging family members, but my hope is that at least one aspect of these lessons will bring you peace and a renewed sense of hope.
Remember, life moves fast. Cherish the intimate moments shared with your family. We never know how much time we have with them.