How to Lovingly Care for Aging Parents

There are seasons of life for everything — joy, sorrow, quiet, busy-ness. As we get older, we often find ourselves in a season where the tables turn, where the script flips, and we start caring for those who cared for us our whole lives. Our parents. This can be a sudden shift or a gradual one, depending on factors such as illness or simply age. But the truth of the matter is that it’s difficult for everyone in the family, albeit in different ways.

Today I’m so thrilled to share a Q&A with Julie Miller, author of the book The Sorrow Exchange: A Month of Daily Prayers for Christians with Aging Parents. Julie’s book walks side-by-side with adults who are in the season of life where their parents are aging and they find themselves in need of additional support and prayer. The 31 days of prayer offers advice, detachable prayer cards, and scriptures that will bless you and remind you of one very important thing: That you are not alone in this journey! Keep reading for my Q&A with Julie, and be sure to buy her book HERE

What led you to write this book?

The Sorrow Exchange: A Month of Daily Prayers for Christians with Aging Parents started as a collection of prayers I wrote as my parents each encountered their season of aging. I became a Christian at age nine, and throughout my life I have found great strength in the power of prayer. So when I was faced with circumstances without the experience to successfully navigate them, I turned to prayer. I soon realized the Holy Spirit was leading me to bless and encourage others walking through similar circumstances. The Sorrow Exchange was the product of my experience. The prayers cover elder-care relevant topics and the typical challenges associated with an aging parent. The journey can be challenging, but experiencing God’s presence and His attention to our specific needs results in a life-changing encounter. 

What preparation logistics do you recommend when care for an aging parent is on the horizon?

Communication. Though some topics are awkward and uncomfortable, the more you know about your parents’ affairs and wishes, the more confidence you will have as their caretaker. Invite your parents to share their thoughts should they experience a medical condition that impedes their ability to care for themselves. It is also important to discuss finances and to understand the different costs involved in elder care. If outside care is needed, what options are affordable and appropriate for your parents? Access to your parents’ medical insurance information is recommended. Ask if long-term care insurance is in place. Someone should be selected to serve as your parents’ agent. Adult children should be made aware of all powers of attorney and health care directives that are in place and where they are located. It is also helpful to designate a trustworthy person to have signature authority on all your parents’ accounts. 

How can we be most helpful to our aging parents? 

First, prepare to care for your parent spiritually.  When we care for another, we must first humble ourselves so God can use us effectively. If you feel you are too busy, above the task, or too uncomfortable to be a caregiver, those feelings are normal. Assuming the role of caretaker can be daunting, but be encouraged! God has prepared you for this journey through your spiritual gifts and life experiences. The Lord will be your guide and reveal your strengths. 

Next, build a team. Take time to identify extended family and friends who are willing to help. The Lord may have given these people special skills and spiritual gifts that will compliment yours. This inventory of friends and family will facilitate task assignments in the days ahead. Like raising children, caring for our parents takes a village. 

Mend fences. Getting along with family will make caring for aging parents more pleasant. We can usually make clearer and more thoughtful decisions when our minds are not weighed down by bitterness toward others. If you feel led, take advantage of this time to resolve any conflicts, hurt feelings and emotional pain among family members. It takes courage to step over our pride and admit wrongdoings, but once we do, we begin to heal and see the person, and not the transgression. Keep in mind, forgiveness and redemption are much healthier than resentment and anger. The Lord’s Prayer calls on all of us to forgive others in the same way as we ask the Lord to forgive ourselves.

What if long-distance care is required?

If your parents live in a different town, it is helpful to discuss their ideas for long-term care as soon as possible, and preferably before health and aging issues become acute. It is not unusual for a parent to wish to remain in their home, and hopefully they can. For socially active seniors who are ready to downsize, retirement communities present popular options. Should a medical need arise that requires a parent to move from their home, determine where they would like to go before an emergency arises. Doing your research on the options in your own area will be helpful talking points when you contact remote facilities. A personal visit to any facilities you are seriously considering is a must. 

Sharing the same town with your parents is best, yet that is not always an option. While your parent resides in a different town than you, a family member or point person should be designated to manage on-the-scene care. If no family resides in your parents’ hometown, consider asking a neighbor or friend to keep an eye out and let you know if behavioral or health changes occur. Regular, in-person visits will help you measure your parents’ well-being.

If caring for your parents falls on you and your siblings, it is a serious matter. If a parent is ever hospitalized, hospital social workers will expect a quality care plan for your parent once they leave the hospital. Develop your plan, know your budget, and pre-assign responsibilities. Teamwork makes for the best care and helps everyone manage their own families and responsibilities. 

What types of care are typically considered?

Where your parent lives will dictate the types of care available. Smaller towns may not have as many options. Recommendations by others provide a great start for researching available care facilities. Family, friends, the church, and your parents’ doctor offer good starting places. Some cities have senior living advisors who are experts in guiding families to choose the best senior living option for their situation and budget. In Dallas, my go to is Nell Taylor of Ruby Care. It is imperative that you personally interview caretakers. They should be licensed care providers. Listed below are care types you will consider available.

In-Home Care: Licensed care givers visit the senior’s home in shifts. They typically do not live in. They may be able to help make the home “senior living friendly” with shower bars, rails, etc.

Senior Group Home: This option is a consideration for seniors who no longer want to stay at home alone, but are not ready (or don’t qualify) for a nursing home. A senior group home is a comfortable, residential home that gives seniors an option to live among their peers. The level of care in these homes varies. Typically, staff assists with meals, laundry, activities, and medication reminders.

Assisted Living: This form of staffed housing offers help with instrumental activities of daily living. Assisted living residents usually have a private or semi-private bedroom.

Nursing Home: This fully staffed facility offers a high level of care, support for daily living, medication management, and 24-hour supervision. 

Memory Care Facilities: Assisted living facilities can offer special areas specifically operated for people living with dementia. A larger staff and security measures are typical. 

Respite Care: This short-term option caters to individuals who need care for a limited period of time. Some respite care programs may care for a patient while the family is away at work or for a vacation.

Hospice: This end-of-life option offers care for those with a life-limiting illness that decide to transition to care that addresses symptoms instead of fighting the disease, with a focus on pain management. 

What Scripture passages are most encouraging or insightful during this season?

These two passages inspired the title of my book, demonstrating to Christians that our Lord takes all our sorrows and exchanges them for His glory!  

But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. I Peter 4:13

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.  Romans 8:18

Many women are caring for both aging parents and in-laws, plus helping with grandchildren. Their time with friends and social life can be minimal. How do you maintain friendships and fend off loneliness during this season? 

Caring for an aging parent and managing your own family is a tall order. I approached caring for my parents from the example they set when they cared for their own parents. Keep in mind your children are observing your actions and you are creating a legacy for them to follow. Involving your children and grandchildren in the process will help. It will be meaningful to them if they have spent time with your parent, made cards, played games, etc. Perhaps younger generations can participate in planning birthday and holiday celebrations. Your own family will understand the magnitude of your caretaker responsibilities when they participate in what you are doing to care for your parent.

And…surprise!! This season as caretaker will likely deepen your friendships. You will discover your friends who have walked this journey before you will support you in ways you cannot imagine. You will probably be surprised by how much time and effort they contribute and the extremes they take to help you. For those friends who have not walked in your footsteps yet, you may need to extend them a little grace. They will eventually develop an appreciation for your journey when the caregiver’s path becomes their own.

How do you refuel physically and spiritually?

Taking care of yourself is critical as you care for others. Refuel physically through your favorite form of exercise or pastime. I have one friend who deeply valued her morning exercise time. She scheduled all appointments, visits, etc. for her parent after her exercise time. This morning ritual gave her the mental and physical endurance she needed to make it through. 

To refuel spiritually, find a set time to spend time with God alone each day. This time with God is what led me to write The Sorrow Exchange. Quiet time allowed me to hand over my concerns to the Lord and allow the Holy Spirit to guide me. Knowing I made time to pray for my parents gave me tremendous peace. Confidence in the Lord allowed me to trust the decisions I was making on my parents’ behalf were the best they could be. 

What other tips can you offer?

While a parent is capable of self-care, request a text from them each morning to ensure all is well. This daily check-in provides great peace of mind, but also allows you to act quickly if the text message fails. That’s when you call and speak to your parent or their neighbor directly.

When you feel led, journal the ways you see the Lord working through your season of caring for your parent. Documenting these encounters will offer you (and others) encouragement and deepen your faith. 

I hope you are as encouraged by Julie’s words and wisdom as I am! Julie Miller is the author of The Sorrow Exchange: A Month of Daily Prayers for Christians with Aging Parents and can be found on Amazon. This would be a wonderful gift to give to a friend who is currently in this season, or to have on hand at home.

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