Aging Parents: A Personal Journey

Bringing your aging parents in to live with you is not an easy decision and not a choice for everyone, but let’s face it…. after 80+ years of age, some seniors need oversight. Fortunately, my husband and I had a loving relationship with my parents, and we got along well. It made sense for us to create an ADL-compliant suite for them in the home that we were building. They were happy to join our household. This living transition did take some getting used to for all of us. At the time, my husband worked more than full-time in the medical field. I worked four days a week as the Independent Living Senior Residence Director. Given my educational background in Speech Pathology and Audiology and several years of experience working with aging seniors, I was the best fit to assume the role of overseeing the care of my parents. 

The first adjustment involved daily activities. Mealtimes, housekeeping, laundry, and grocery shopping were just the start of a long list of activities that needed coordination. My father was still driving at this time, though my parents did not deviate far from our home. We made it work. 

There were a lot of social adjustments to be made. Whereas my parents knew all our friends, there were times when we wanted to socialize on our own. Sometimes, I felt guilty leaving them behind, though my parents always encouraged us to go. Conversely, my parents generally socialized outside our home, at religious organizations or senior centers. They respected our wish for privacy when we were at our house. 

Initially, my dad was very helpful with tasks around the house. We traveled with them as we enjoyed their company, and they would not do it alone. 

After several years, we noticed more and more that my parents were challenged by technology. For example, they frequently pushed the wrong button on the TV remote and needed assistance. They needed clarification on our house alarm system. They became more sedentary in their daily activities. Their decision-making could have been more accurate. We noticed a few dents on my dad’s car. My Mother’s ambulatory status was reduced, and she needed a walker. 

After ten years together in our home, my mother fell and broke her hip. We realized that my parents were no longer safe in our house alone. It was not reasonable for us to bring live-in help, nor could we be at home always to keep them safe. It was time to make a change. 

Now in their late 80s, they could no longer initiate social activities. They needed assistance with meal preparation, transportation, financial oversight, communication with physicians, and many other necessities of daily living. They also required social stimulation with others. 

My parents were already familiar with an independent living residence as they knew some other residents. They were offered three meals, housekeeping, daily activities, and outings there. Most importantly, they provided a 24-hour response to medical emergencies. Eventually, at 93 years of age, my dad agreed to give up driving. I became their primary driver. We all rested easy knowing that my parents were surrounded by peers and staff who assisted as needed. 

My parents managed quite well in this environment for several years. As a married couple of over 70 years, they functioned adequately as one, but we soon learned how challenging it would be to reside alone. A severe and abrupt health incident took the life of my 92-year-old mother. My 95-year-old father had more challenges than we had realized. Without my mother’s oversight, we understood the decline in his cognitive function. My dad could no longer manage his medication schedule; he needed reminders to go to meals or activities, and he soon lost his ability to operate a TV remote or his computer. He was unsafe showering alone and needed assistance changing clothes and maintaining hygiene. Around this time, the fear and isolation of COVID-19 prohibited us from hiring a caregiver. So, I became his coach and daily caregiver until we were able to move him to an assisted living residence near my home. In this new environment, caregivers provided shower and dressing assistance, laundry, meals, housekeeping, medication management, and activities. My daily visits were much less stressful, and it was nice to see that my dad was safe and stimulated in this much-needed higher level of care. My dad was able to remain there for one and a half years. When he started to wander and demonstrated much more confusion at night, it was clear that he needed to move to the memory care unit. As of this date, he has been there for one year. He is now 100 years old. 

If you are an aging senior or looking after an aging senior, please consider my “words of wisdom.”

– In my opinion, the most critical factor in successful aging is safety. Ideally, one should be able to “age in place” for as long as possible. Please look around your home. If your balance is not good, you have periods of dizziness, or if walking stairs is a problem, make the necessary adjustments to your home. Remove area rugs, coffee tables, unsecured bathmats, etc. Be sure that needed items are within easy reach. 

– Don’t overlook the benefits of assisted devices such as rolling walkers. They may allow you to be more active in your daily life. 

– Establish a good rapport with whoever is available to look after you, whether a family member or friend/ neighbor. A simple measure such as raising a window shade daily can let someone know you are okay. 

– If you live alone, consider a wearable device that can alert someone if you have fallen or need medical assistance. 

– Managing medications is extremely important. Consider hiring help to set up your weekly medications or purchasing an electronic medication reminder device. 

– Have someone accompany you to all doctor appointments. Being a good communicator includes revealing your medical issues to your doctor and listening to the doctor’s advice. Do not overlook challenges with hearing and sight. 

– Don’t drive beyond the time when you are capable. Although it is a harsh blow to your independence, ride service has many options. 

– Bring in HELP when needed. Meal preparation, housekeeping services, bathing assistance, or laundry are all examples of assistance you may need. 

– Stay social. If you are isolated alone in your home, consider moving to a senior retirement facility. I strongly suggest choosing a location as close as possible to those who can look after you. In addition, I strongly recommend a facility that offers multiple levels of care: independent, assisted, memory care, and skilled nursing. 

– Have a living will, advance directives, and family trusts. 

– Designate which individuals you want to have access to your health care according to HIPPA Regulations. Include backups to the backups. These should be on file with your health insurance plans, doctor’s offices/health groups. 

– A trust document may designate your wishes for power of attorney for certain financial decisions. However, specific banks may require their legal documents in this regard. Be sure to get these in place before the onset of significant dementia.

– Be aware that once a physician documents dementia in contrast to mild cognitive impairment, access to assisted living residences may be limited. 

– Make sure that the executive of your estate knows where documentation of assets and liabilities are located. 

Paula Schannon retired as Director of Resident Services for the Independent Living Residence at Seacrest Village. She has a master’s degree in Speech Pathology and Audiology from San Diego State University. She has worked in the San Diego Public Schools and specialized in helping students with learning disabilities.  Ms. Schannon is the mother of two adult children. Her father, Abe Levine, recently passed away.