It can be a difficult and emotional process to see your parents age and move into a new season of life where they need more help and are losing their independence. It can be tough not knowing what to expect, as the aging journey does not look the same for everyone. Some people age without losing any mental function, while others can develop dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
Although the exact type of care and involvement needed by your parents may not be the same as other people, there are some general stages of aging that most people can generally expect. According to the Online Senior Center, there are 5 stages of aging:
Stage 1: Independence. Aging or elderly parents are still able to live on their own and take care of themselves.
Stage 2: Interdependence. This is a time when they will start to rely on their children for support. They may need help with monthly, weekly, or daily tasks, but could be stubborn about admitting it.
Stage 3: Dependency. Parents will need consistent, daily help as they struggle to maintain physical and/or mental health.
Stage 4: Crisis management. Elderly parents need 24-hour care, and some form of an assisted living facility is necessary.
Stage 5: End-of-life care. This stage is often tied to the 4th stage of crisis management, as 24-hour care in some form of an assisted living facility is necessary, and hospice is likely needed.
During the first and second stages, before they get to a stage where they have difficulty making their own health decisions, it’s important to have open communication with your parents about their health and what you can do to help them age healthily. It is especially beneficial to talk about what they may want when the time comes that they need more help. Talk about what that may look like and how they may want help, and be honest about how much you will be able to be involved in their care.
This is a perfect time as well to get all of the appropriate legal documents in place to ensure that you can make decisions on their behalf if they are unable to do so themselves. This includes having a power of attorney and health directives drawn up and in place. These documents will save you loads of stress later, so you can better focus on providing the right care for your parents when they need it.
If you live close to your parents, you may be able to provide them with the majority of the care they need. However, if you live further away or have other commitments that prevent you from being as available, you may need to seek out other care options, such as hiring in-home care or placing them in an assisted living facility, especially as your parents become more dependent on daily help. They could be stubborn about it and try to hold onto their independence, but try to be patient and understanding as they transition to needing consistent help. This is a difficult time for them as well.
Keep in mind that these 5 stages of aging can be very fluid and rapidly changing. Sometimes elderly parents will move quickly between stages, while at other times, they may stay in one stage for months or years. You may find yourself in a state of flux, constantly adapting to your parents’ changing needs. It is a very taxing season of life and you want to be sure to take good care of yourself during this time so you can be there for your parents and show them the love and support that they have shown you throughout your life.