Caring For Elderly Parents: The Complete Guide

By Angie Haley
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Elderly Parenting Playing With Grandchildren
Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained by living a godly life. – Proverbs 16:31

As our elderly parents begin to enter the threshold of that pilgrimage, coping with the emotional, practical and financial ways of loving them and caring for them well can bring with it a myriad of challenges, which will need to be met with grace, wisdom and great compassion as they too are experiencing this particular journey upon which they have never ventured. It is sacred and unchartered territory for each of you, which is why it is imperative to enter humbly into this season knowing who to trust in the midst of the storm.

Time is a mystery. The future is unknown to us. As followers of Christ, ours is to intentionally and thankfully steward each day that has been so graciously given to us by our Creator. What is to come is in the hands of the one who formed us; therefore, the journey of life and all that it encompasses is an exploration into the unknown. For years, I have said that growing old is a privilege denied to many.

Emotionally Caring For Elderly Parents

Life is not equitable. While some are afforded the opportunity to ‘grow old gracefully’ others are stricken with cruel diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer’s, COPD, Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS), Diabetes, Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and a myriad of horrible life-ending illnesses. What can be difficult to reconcile with our faith is when our loved one might have led a life following their Savior and yet, they are stricken and suffering with illnesses. This can seem unfair. This can feel unjust. However, when faced with this potential crisis of faith, it is important to remind oneself of our Savior’s suffering.

” But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.”

– Isaiah 53:5

The knowledge and understanding that Christ himself is fully and personally acquainted with pain, suffering and grief can offer us incredible comfort in the midst of the challenges accompanied through caring for our elderly parents. Let’s not forget He wept.

The reality is that life in this world is not ‘fair’. Personally, I believe our desire as humans to have life be just is our deeper desire for Heaven. In Heaven, all will be made right. All the injustices of this life in a broken world will be reconciled. All things will be new. Our fascination with the superhero sums up our deep desire for good to win in all circumstances.

We want the bad guy to lose and the good guy to win. We beg the Lord to rescue us from our suffering when, in reality, he might be allowing our pain because he wants us to press deeper into him to discover the true source of our strength instead of relying on ourselves for temporary stability.

We want the suffering to end. We want our suffering to end. We want our aging parent’s suffering to end, yet we do not want our parents to leave this world because we deeply love them.

Managing Grief

Truthfully, what we are walking through is grief. We are grieving what our sweet mama used to be like before she forgot who we were because of the horrible and debilitating disease called Alzheimer’s removed from her conscious the memory of you, her child. Before it took from her the joy of the thought of her grandchildren. Grief is witnessing first-hand how the horrendous disease called cancer struck down your strong daddy, your hero, who was once ‘larger than life’ turning this pillar of strength into a frail, fragile and weakened man who hardly has the strength to walk across the room.

Grief is the privilege of knowing we have and have been deeply loved. Grief is the best way I can fathom to describe the deeply emotional aspect of watching the pillars of your life – those who instilled into you great courage and wisdom, begin to fade in this world.

Comfort Through Scripture

The emotional impact of caring for elderly parent can, often-times, feel insurmountable like a tsunami. But there are great sources of strength to be found in the middle of the storm.

First and foremost is through reading the Word. Encouragement abounds throughout scripture as you read stories of others who suffered. Glean from their experience and their wisdom. Encouragement can be found with other family members – siblings who are walking a similar path of loss. Talk often with them about your elderly parents, and, to the best of your ability, ensure each of you are on the same page because that will matter greatly when it comes to decisions of care. Some of the biggest hurdles in caring for your aging parents is ensuring siblings are likeminded. An idea, which seems simple in theory, yet can be difficult in application. Just try…

The biggest piece of advice I could offer, as a child of an aging parent, would be to allow yourself the grace to grieve. Your mom or dad do not have to be gone from this world to grieve what once was and is no longer. Allow yourself to experience and express your sorrow. The second biggest piece of advice I would offer is to tell them today how much you love them and why. Far too often, individuals wait until the their loved one has passed to fully express their love during the funeral. Don’t wait – say it today so they can hear it directly from you.

Comparatively, I have heard that terminal illness can be an ‘unwelcomed guest’. To clarify, when someone is diagnosed, it is a recognition of the disease. In most cases, it is not instant such as a heart attack or aneurism, which means, while things seem bleak, you have been given the gift of time. Utilize that time – that opportunity to reconcile, reminisce, and receive the blessing because the last thing you will want is to live with regret.

I have a sign on my wall, which reads, ‘There is always, always, always, something to be thankful for.’ In the middle of the sadness, create a beautiful and memorable moment with your parents.

Day-To-Day Care & Support From Siblings

In my humble opinion, practicality parallels proximity. Meaning, if you are blessed to live geographically close to your parents, caring for them will become part of your daily or weekly routine. Whereas if you live farther away, your visits will be less frequent but more grandiose. If you are in close proximity and daily care is possible for you to take on, you should first discuss this with your spouse, as well as any siblings.

With that said, please allow me to tell you a tale of three sisters.

One sister resides approximately five miles away from her parents. Another, lives in a neighboring state and the third on the opposite coast about 2000 miles away. For the sister who lives close to her aging parents, her individual practical care list is extensive and weekly if not daily. Her to-dolist encompasses things such as grocery shopping, picking up prescriptions, doctor’s appointments, hair appointments, inviting them over for a barbeque or out for a meal. The sister who resides in a neighboring state has a different role during her monthly visits. While there, she typically tackles some of the more pressing matters such as taking care of home projects, cleaning out pantries and throwing away expired food. Then the sister who lives 2000 miles away who visits approximately once per quarter for a week; tends to larger home projects, making meals to freeze, and organizing closets or garages.

Each sister has a role to play all of which are quite practical, but different. The first sister might not be able to tackle some of the larger projects because her roll is daily care, which can be exhausting emotionally. While the other two sisters can accomplish larger projects because they visit less frequently, which parallels the ideas of less frequent visits with more grandiose practical tasks.

In a like manner, each member of the family has a vital role to play encompassing their own set of giftings that the Father has given them. If you are the cheerleader – encourage. If you are the party planner, schedule monthly meals together or birthday celebrations. If you are a servant – grocery shop, take out the trash, install new batteries in their fire alarms, and replace lightbulbs. If you are skilled with your hands – install handrails in the bathroom, tackle needed home repairs, pressure wash their deck or porch.

Here are some practical ideas that you and your siblings could do for your elderly parents:

  1. Grocery shop
  2. Pick up prescriptions
  3. Take their trash can to and from the curb weekly
  4. Pick up their mail 
    List of practical ways to help emotionally
  5. Invite them out for a meal
  6. Bring a meal to their house and eat it together
  7. Have coffee or tea together
  8. Write a handwritten letter
  9. Bake something for them and either mail it or hand deliver
  10. Send a care package
  11. Call them and tell them you love them
    List of practical ways to communicate
  12. Sign them up on Facebook so they can see your pictures
  13. Facetime
  14. Set up a text feed with just them and check in often
  15. Set up a text feed with your siblings, including them
  16. Set up a text feed with ONLY siblings so each of you can communicate easily

Most importantly – be a team. Work together because you will need each other to accomplish the main goal, which is to love, cherish and care for your aging parents.

The Caregiving Season: Finding Grace to Honor Your Aging Parents

Caring for elderly parents is challenging. It's a season of life that requires grace and strength that can only come from God. In her book, The Caregiving Season, Jane Daly shares personal caregiving stories, offering practical advice to help you honor your aging parents well and deepen your personal relationship with Christ along the journey.

Caring For Parents From A Distance

Care from a distance can be challenging because our desire is to help them as much as practically possible while realizing geography quickly eliminates the practicality of possibilities. Distance affords an opportunity to be creative and intentional.

Perhaps, discover their love language and find ways of expressing love to them in a manner they receive the best. For example, my cute mom’s love language is words; therefore, on her 80th birthday, I cut out colorful pieces of paper into circles and wrote 80 attributes, characteristics or qualities I love about her.

I put them into a glass jar so that she can read them whenever she would like as a reminder of what a gift she is to my heart and life. My dad loves my homemade banana bread and blueberry muffins, so every two weeks I ship fresh baked goods to them.

Another idea might be to mail a fun care package with hand- written notes from the grandchildren, a beautiful candle or gift cards to their favorite restaurants. In addition, technology has afforded us an incredible opportunity to stay in touch.

Years ago, I convinced my mom to join Facebook so she could keep up with the activities of her grandchildren and see their sweet faces in living color. Additionally, FaceTime allows for a deeper connection than a phone call because this vehicle is more interactive and allows the caller an ability to see one another’s smiling faces.

Also, set up a text feed between your elderly parents and your siblings so all of you can easily connect with one another daily. The most important thing is to stay connected, which is why intentionality is so critical. 

Caring Financial For Aging Parents

The financial aspect of caring for an elderly parent can take on an entire spectrum of situations, circumstances and emotions.

If one’s parents are independent and living alone, then the financial components are seemingly simple. If your mom is widow or dad a widower, perhaps there will come a time when it is safer for them to move in with you.

This was the story of my grandma, who at the age of 90, moved in with my sister, her husband and two sons into their small three-bedroom home. The boys began to share a room to create space for Grammy. She was in great health and her mind was sound. Then at the age of 106, she went to be with her Savior.

She was such a remarkable lady and I am forever grateful for her life and legacy. Perhaps this might not be your dynamic, and instead it would require you to purchase a larger home to make space for your mom and dad.

What if they need more help due to Alzheimer’s or another illness and needed to move into a memory care or assisted living facility. This would be an enormous financial obligation, especially if they did not have the money to cover the monthly cost of such a community.

Perhaps all they need is some help around the house while living alone; therefore, nursing service could be the best fit for that situation.

Again, to attempt to place a range on the cost of financial care is far too broad of a brush. The only recommendation I could offer would be to discuss their wishes before they are in a crisis situation, and to have the potentially uncomfortable or awkward conversation about how much money they have set aside for the ‘what ifs’ life might bring. Additionally, having a will clearly established can help reduce the stress of the unknown.

As I stated previously, talk with your siblings and attempt to make sure each of you is on the same page, realizing that may be an incredible challenge, but the reality of the situation is that each member of the family should have the same goal, which is to love, cherish and care for your aging parents to the best of your ability.

Caring For Elderly Parents As A Christian

We are the body. We are the hands and feet. Whether your parents are elderly or not, our highest calling is to care for the widow and orphan.

Ridley College in Canada has a Latin school motto that reads, Terar
Dum Prosim, which translates into English as “May I Be Consumed in
Service.”

To have that mindset as believers knowing it is the example Christ set for each of us. In light of that knowledge, be mindful in your neighborhood for widows, widowers or elderly couples.

“Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially those who belong to the family of believers.”

– Galatians 6:10

This verse states ‘as we have opportunity’ which indicates moments will present themselves to us; therefore, keep a wary eye out for such occasions to do good. Seize those moments to mow the lawn, shovel snow from their driveway, take their trash to and from the curb, make a meal, bring over flowers, coffee or lemonade and sit with them. Just simply be available. Be available to listen. Be available to talk. Be available to serve because an opportunity to do good will present itself, and care for them as if you were caring for your own elderly parents.

In a like manner, churches can offer a myriad of opportunities to serve the elderly in their congregation and community. When I was a little girl, our church had Senior Adult events. In fact, my mom was the leader of those events. They had weekly meals together every Wednesday night, Sunday evening Bible study, and monthly socials. Interestingly, many of the moms who were in that group remain the best of friends today because the time afforded to them through church activities allowed them to build a strong community of life-long friendship.

“Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are the body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”

– Teresa of Avila

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