Helping your parents age at home

As we get older, many of us will see our kids move out of home and feel less responsibility for looking after them. Yet, on the other hand, we will also undoubtedly see our parents get older, and they may need us to help look after them in their later years.

This can be a difficult and daunting time for families, especially if their loved ones have different levels of care. The good news is that there is support available so that helping your parents navigate their twilight years can become your greatest joy.

Appointing yourself as carer for your parents

This struggle is something Marney, 58 years old, can relate to entirely, as she didn’t want to separate her own parents – who had been married for over 61 happy years!

“When my parents, Carmel and Herbert, were in their early 70s, they moved from their small acreage to a house block close by. My mum went from being very mobile to not being able to get out of bed,” says Marney. “It appeared the more unwell my mum became, the more fit my father became.”

After several years spent trying to pin down the causes of her mum’s illness, Carmel was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome as well as an autoimmune disease.

As her parents got older, the decision was made that they would build a granny flat on their land, so Marney would care for them – something she’s now been doing for 14 years.

“Mum turned 80 the year they moved into the granny flat. They were still both active, able to move without assistance although mum used a walker for stability. She was quite an anxious person and her condition left her with a fear of being left alone,” says Marney. “On the flip side, my dad loved to enjoy long walks, going for drives and pottering in the garden.”

During this time, Marney and her dad worked as a team to make sure her mum was getting the care that she needed.

Growing responsibilities

It was when Carmel had a bad fall while at a shopping centre, bruising her face and leaving her feeling unstable and in shock, that her memory began to deteriorate and her needs increased even more.

“As mum’s needs increased so did my dad’s,” says Marney. “His medical conditions of macular degeneration, glaucoma and arthritis were starting to impact his life as well.”

With this, Marney found her role as carer became more involved, because she was taking over tasks that before her dad had been able to do unaided.

“It was quite a juggle at times to gradually take over things such as driving or managing appointments without taking away dad’s independence or sense of being in charge,” says Marney. “I had to be careful to not be too pushy, just because they are getting older doesn’t mean they can’t do things, it just takes more time and effort.”

After a few more years, when Marney needed support to help with the care of her parents, she heard about government aged care packages and applied through the My Aged Care website . Her parents had an ACAT assessment and were able to access a few more hours of in-home help per fortnight with their level of package. This gave Marney the respite she needed to keep her own life functioning. Unfortunately, in early 2017, Marney’s mum’s condition worsened and Carmel passed away. For Marney and her father, this has left a huge hole in their lives and means Herbert relies much more heavily on his daughter for support.

“They were together for 61 and a half years. And although he now has the ‘freedom’ to do more, he doesn’t have the company in which to do it, so he now relies more heavily on me. Again, not for personal care, but for emotional and practical help,” Marney says.

Advice to others

While it has been challenging, the experience has been rewarding for Marney. When asked what tips she would give others who are assisting their ageing parents, Marney says you should always try to be present and mindful of the time that you spend with them, taking their needs into consideration.

“So often, it is not about the medication or bathing, but the emotional impact of ageing, losing one’s friends and family, and feeling as though they are still useful and needed, ” Marney says.

For those, like Marney, who are taking on the role as carer to ageing parents, there are also in-home care services that can relieve you from the pressures of being a full-time carer. In-home care provider Five Good Friends can provide in-home care advice and affordable services, where you’ll have control and visibility over the service, but also see your parents looked after by the same highly qualified Helpers.

Getting qualified for a government aged care package can take a year or more from assessment to receiving funds. For someone like Marney, the extra help is life changing, as you can spend more time being a son or daughter, rather than your parents’ carer. It is these moments that matter. 

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