Preparing for and navigating the ageing parent life-stage

What will happen to your parents as they age? Are they ageing well? What needs might they have? Do they have enough money set aside for care if one or both of them need it? Who in the family will take responsibility for their care if needed?

Around 1 in 3 of us will find ourselves caring for an elderly parent in our lifetime, yet when the time comes, this reality usually takes us by surprise. 

Unfortunately, whilst we consider and prepare for many other significant life events – like buying a home or having children – we rarely prepare for our parents getting old and needing care, until a crisis strikes. 

Why are we so unprepared for this life stage?

There can be several reasons why so many of us are generally unprepared, so you shouldn’t feel guilty if you find yourself in this position.

One of the biggest reasons is poor communication, and our societal tendency to avoid discussing ageing and end-of-life plans. Conversations about death and dying, and the potential need for caregiving, are difficult topics for both ourselves and our parents. As a consequence, words are left unspoken, and we are left uninformed and without a plan.

Other factors at play include our societal emphasis on independence and self-sufficiency, which can make it difficult for both our parents and us to accept the changing dynamics of caregiving. 

Let’s not forget also that our cultural attitudes and the media can lead us to believe that getting old is an option, despite the fact that – in our rational minds – we know that life has an expiry date.  All of this is then compounded by a huge lack of accessible information and guidance about this life-stage, as well as the dreary tedium and sensitivities involved in later life paperwork.

What are some of the biggest challenges of this life-stage?

This life stage is full of complex challenges, but our personalities and family dynamics play a huge part in just how challenging it is. For some, convincing their parent to accept that they need help can be a major barrier. Even if they’ve accepted that they need help, getting them to accept help from someone other than a family member can be a struggle. 

If this isn’t an issue for you, and your parent is open to receiving external support, finding that support in itself is a challenge – how do you look for and find good care? Should you use an agency? How do you find a carer that is the right personality and fit, that you and your parent trust?

Caring for elderly parents often involves having lots of difficult conversations, making difficult decisions, and carrying out complex, tedious and frustrating tasks, such as helping to manage their finances, and navigating the care and healthcare system.  This is a stage of life where you really need good guidance and support, but many of us simply don’t know where or how to ask for help, or what help exists. 

What can you do to make this life stage easier?

There are so many things you can do ahead of time to make this life stage smoother and less stressful for all involved. Here are a few for starters.

  • Even though it’s awkward and difficult, initiate those important conversations about later life planning sooner than later: these should include open, empathetic and tactful discussions about ageing, living arrangements and caregiving preferences, and end-of-life wishes. Involving the entire family – all siblings and parent(s) – ensures that everyone is on the same page and understands their roles, leaving less chance for misunderstandings and arguments down the line.
  • When having later life planning discussions, approach it like a business meeting so everyone takes it seriously – agree a time and place for the discussion, prepare for it, set an agenda and bring necessary documents and paperwork. Anticipate potential challenges, discuss various scenarios and formulate strategies and contingency plans to address them.
  • Make sure your parent’s have essential legal paperwork in place, including an up-to-date will and, crucially, powers of attorney for both financial affairs and health and welfare. This helps avoid having to suddenly pull them together in a crisis, and ensures that your parent’s wishes are honoured, leaving less room for confusion and guilt.
  • Last but not least, be more engaged earlier in you parent’s health (if they will allow it). Regularly observe their health and health behaviour – for example, are there any changes in their memory or ability to carry out everyday tasks? What medications are they on and are they taking them correctly? Are they having yearly eye tests? Is their home a fall hazard? Accompany them to medical appointments if you can, and establish a relationship with their healthcare providers. This proactive approach allows for early detection and intervention in health issues, and ensures they are staying on top of their health needs. 

The benefits of being proactive

Even if your parent or parents are beating the odds and are generally healthy and sharp at 80, sadly that doesn’t mean they will go on like this forever. Ageing can be unpredictable and within five years, this could change completely – you just don’t know.

By taking proactive steps, you not only make the transition to caring for your parents smoother and less stressful, but you also ensure that their later years are more comfortable and well-supported. 

Having these crucial conversations, putting legalities in place, and actively participating in your parent’s health can significantly contribute to a more prepared and resilient family when the inevitable challenges of old age arise. It’s hard, but you (and your family) will thank yourself in the long run.


Eldering website

Eldering Instagram

Visit Eldering and join the Eldering community on Instagram to help you prepare ahead, and navigate this uncharted territory with compassion, community and confidence.

By Katie Fyfe

Katie is the founder of Eldering, a new website and online community aimed at empowering families to manage and better prepare for the ageing parent years. Eldering provides guidance, information and resources overseen by experts in all aspects of eldercare and later life.

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