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Reversing Roles Means Change for Families
By Jennifer Glover
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Americans are living longer, and with the population of the older generation increasing, many people can expect to face the responsibility and privilege of caring for their aging parents.
Dr. Ann Jarratt, extension specialist at Mississippi State University, said this step of role-reversal can be difficult for many children and parents. Many times problems can arise if the decision is not thoroughly thought out.
"The adult children must recognize the choice may be long-term and not easily reversed," she said. "The caregiver needs to discuss with the family all options available to them and then decide which one would best suit their needs."
Children must evaluate their home situation if they choose to bring the parent into the home.
"They need to ask themselves if there is adequate space in the home for the parent, how will the family adapt to having someone else in the home and who will provide the day-to-day care for the parent," Jarratt said.
Once those questions are answered, the caregiver needs to concentrate on helping the parent adjust to the situation. Jarratt said it is important to help parents maintain their dignity and sense of independence.
"Help them maintain control of their lives. Encourage them to continue doing things they are capable of doing themselves," she said.
Keep the parents informed of things going on in their lives.
"For example, if they have a doctor's appointment, let them know in advance," she said. "Help them feel like an important part of the family. Everyone, no matter what their age, needs to feel needed."
Just because the parent is elderly does not mean he or she needs to be treated like a child. Though there are exceptions, most older adults are quite capable of rational thought, Jarratt added.
Elderly parents are not the only ones who will face challenges. Children need to realize their lives also will change.
"The caregiver may try to become dietician, pharmacist and nurse to their parents. The result could be a feeling of inadequacy or guilt about the situation," Jarratt said. "There is also the possibility of putting a strain on marital relationships."
To avoid these problems, Jarratt recommended following some simple suggestions.
- Have daily or weekly times away from home. This might mean calling a Home Health Service or a sitter.
- Find someone to talk to, such as a friend, family member or even a support group.
- Do not feel guilty every time you are away from the parent. Be sure to recognize early stress symptoms and practice stress management.
- Schedule private time with your spouse. Try to find humor in daily situations and laugh with your spouse whenever possible.
- Exercise and eat properly. Maintain your physical health as well as your mental and emotional health.
"Many children will have the idea that because they took on the responsibility of taking their parent into their home, they must continue to do so no matter what," Jarratt said. "But children need to give themselves permission to change the care arrangements if circumstances call for it."
Challenges and changes will occur in the lives of the child and the parent, but benefits and opportunities also exist. Caring for a parent gives the child the opportunity to monitor their parents' care.
Whatever decision is made concerning care arrangements for elderly parents, the child should remember the best choice is the one that will make them and their parents happiest.