When You Become Your Parents’ Caretaker

Christopher Stewart, MD
Board Certified Internal Medicine
Hospitalist Program Director
Central Harnett Hospital
Harnett Health 

For so many years your parents have been independent and self-reliant.  They cared for you, so the role reversal where you now need to care for your parents can be hard on you and on them.  Use these helpful ideas to make this transition of roles as smooth as possible.

Christopher Stewart, MD, board certified in internal medicine and hospitalist program director at Central Harnett Hospital in Lillington, has worked with patients who are going through both sides of this family issue, “The first step is to have a loving conversation with your parents to let them know you want to be there to support them.  Let them know you have noticed some changes and, if needed, get a trusted family doctor, lawyer or religious leader to help in the conversation.”

If you have siblings, be sure to get them involved too.  “You and your brothers and sisters can work together to share the load,” continues Stewart.  “The sibling who lives the closest to your parents could take on finding in-home care while the sibling with the best financial sense can take on the financial aspect.  Break down the work so it is not overwhelming and doesn’t create hard feelings and family rifts.”

If you are an only child or would like additional resources to help in the process, Dr. Stewart recommends talking with your county’s department on aging or call or visit online the Eldercare Locator (800-677-1116).

One of the first things to do is compile a list of your parents’ doctors, medications, pharmacies, lawyers, financial advisers and financial information, including all contact information.  This list could also include their friends, neighbors and fellow church members who would be willing to help when needed.

“A document that may be needed is a durable power of attorney for healthcare, which will allow an appointed person to make healthcare decisions on your parents’ behalf if your parent cannot,” commented Stewart.  “Also, have your parents complete appropriate release forms so doctors have permission to release and share medical information.  Another thing is to agree on one family member to communicate with doctors and medical staff so information flow is seamless and easy for the doctors and for the family.”

In-home help can be good to establish with small things at first and increased as needed. Be sure the in-home help is a good fit for both your parents and the caregiver.  There are several levels of in-home care from help with running errands and light house work to caring for bed-ridden individuals.

If the load of coordinating care for your parents becomes too much, consider hiring a geriatric care manager.  These professionals will assess your parent’s needs, help identify services and, if necessary, provide ongoing care management.

“Use this time to get to know more about your parents and family,” suggests Dr. Stewart.  “Keeping a positive outlook will help you all, and you may discover some amazing things about your parents that you didn’t know.”

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