Caring for Aging Parents Without Sacrificing Mental Health

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Over 71 million people are a part of the “baby boomer” generation in the U.S. At the moment, the oldest members of that generation are around 74. If you’re an adult, possibly with a family and career of your own, your parents may very well fall within the baby boomer category. 

That generation and the ones prior to it are, of course, getting older. That can come with a variety of decisions to make and potential issues to face for them and you. For example, now, more than ever, seniors are at an increased risk of developing health issues due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They are a vulnerable population that needs support and adequate healthcare in order to stay afloat. As their grown child, many of those responsibilities may fall on you. 

While you want to make sure your aging parents receive the best care, it isn’t always easy. That kind of pressure and stress can take a toll on your mental health if you aren’t making your own well-being a priority. 

So, how can you effectively care for your aging parents while maintaining your own mental health? 

Understanding Your Parents’ Need for Help 

Again, the aging population is at a greater risk for developing different physical and mental conditions. Aging is a risk factor for illnesses like: 

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Neurodegeneration
  • Cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Hypertension

Even the healthiest of people can contract certain diseases as they get older. Unfortunately, between the growing risk of these physical problems and the acceptance of their own morality, many elderly individuals also experience problems with depression. That might not be easy to see, as their grown child. So, it’s important to recognize the signs of depression in older individuals, including: 

  • Feelings of sadness or hopelessness
  • Loss of interest in hobbies or passions
  • Lack of energy or sleep disturbances

Due to the state of the world, the idea of getting older, and other fears they might be facing, older people are also susceptible to anxiety. Everyone experiences anxiety differently and many people have “triggers” that can set it off, including everything from family and crowds to global problems and health problems. Understanding your parents’ triggers can give you some insight into how to help them, including avoiding those triggers as often as possible. 

Making Sure They Are Taken Care Of

In some cases, more professional care may be needed for your aging parents. There are over 1 million people in nursing homes across the U.S., and nearly 8% of those people are over the age of 95. 

Nursing homes and assisted living facilities are designed to give elderly individuals the care they need around the clock. Most also offer long-term care if your parent has a chronic condition or illness. They can be wonderful facilities for people in need of monitoring and attention, especially if you can’t provide that level of care on your own. But, it’s important to do your research on different nursing homes in your area. Look at reviews, visit places yourself, and talk to others who may have parents or loved ones there. 

Some nursing facilities throughout the country have come under fire over the years as instances of elder abuse have been reported. Signs of elder abuse can include: 

  • Unusual injuries or restraint marks
  • A domineering behavior from the caregiver(s)
  • Your parent looking as though their health has deteriorated
  • Unsafe living conditions

When you and your parents agree that a nursing facility is the best place for them, it’s expected that they will receive the care they need. No one wants to think about their parents being abused or mistreated in any way. Unfortunately, it does happen and that can cause additional stress in your own life. If this is the route you’re choosing, give yourself peace of mind by investigating the facilities you’re interested in. 

Managing Your Mental Health

Between making sure your parents are healthy, researching facilities, or even perhaps taking your parents into your own home, it can all take a toll. But, the old saying goes “you can’t pour from an empty cup”. So, as much as you may want to take care of your parents, you have to take care of yourself, first. 

Making your mental health a priority will allow you to take better care of your parents without feeling overwhelmed by stress, uncertainty, or even your own feelings of anxiety. Develop a self-care routine that promotes positive mental health. It should include things like: 

  • Eating well
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Exercising
  • Doing things to help your mind and body unwind each day

It is never selfish to take care of yourself, even if you have the responsibility of taking care of others, too. Managing your mental health will only make you more equipped to care for your parents without burning out. 

By choosing to take care of your aging parents, you are saying “I love you” in one of the most beautiful ways. Remember, they once took care of you, too, and though they may not say it as often now, they still want what is best for you. Finding that balance between caring for your parents and yourself may not always be easy, but it’s something that you should always strive for in order to ensure everyone is as happy and healthy as possible. 

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