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Decision making is a difficult part of caregiving. Learn when and how to make decisions for your aging parent that will keep them happy and healthy.
When Should You Make Decisions for Your Aging Parent?
Knowing when to step in and start making decisions for your parent is difficult. If your parent is currently able to make decisions, encourage them to sit down with you now and tell you exactly when they would like you to step in. This can be a formal document like a Living Will addendum or Power of Attorney or it can just be an agreement made between you.
If you are already questioning some of your parent’s decisions consider the following two questions before you step in:
- Is my parent making choices because they are cognitively impaired or are they just making choices I don’t necessarily agree with?
- Is my parent’s choices going to cause them or someone else harm of any kind?
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How Do You Make Decisions for Your Aging Parent?
When making decisions for your aging parent, they should always be your priority. Avoid making decisions that simply make things easier on you, benefit you financially, or because a professional (doctor, attorney, cpa, etc.) told you this is “how it needs to be”.
When my husband and I first became caregivers for my MIL, my husband’s siblings (new at this too) decided my husband and I would be “in charge” of my MIL’s finances as well as her physical care.
No plan was put in place. No rules established. At the time none of us knew the extent of my MIL’s medical and mental disabilities, just that she couldn’t live alone.
Anyone who has every had to handle the affairs of a deceased parent knows that the paperwork and legal hurdles seem never ending. You face one roadblock after another and spend a lot of time trying to make sense of bureaucratic thought processes.
In an effort to make the financial side of things easier on myself, I made a combined household budget and spent out of whichever account had money in it. My husband’s pay comes in on the first so I paid first-of-the-month bills, did the grocery shopping, and replaced the well-worn household items for my MIL. When my MIL’s social security check finally came in I made car payments, bought more groceries, and we “lived” off the rest until the next month.
Not a great system.
This system looked even worse when my husband’s siblings saw our car payment coming out of their mother’s account even though there was no malicious intent behind it.
- We went in without a plan. Not knowing what we were getting into, my husband, myself, and his siblings rushed in without making a plan for how things should be.
- There was no discussion. Instead of sitting down right away and discussing what was going on, my husband’s siblings talked amongst themselves. Instead of advising my husband’s siblings of our financial situation (money not coming in on time) my husband and I just “handled it”. We didn’t sit down and discuss until tensions were so high we needed legal mediation.
- We had no knowledge. When my FIL died, we had no idea what my MIL’s health problems were, who was treating her, what their care plan was, what decisions needed to be made…we just had unending questions. I know it can be difficult to discuss health problems and needing help in the future but MAKE A PLAN OF CARE NOW! I cannot stress this enough. A plan will make transitioning your aging parent to any kind of assisted living so much easier!
Make decisions for them, not about them.
There is a big difference when you make a decision for your aging parent rather than about them. Making a decision for your aging parent is keeping your parent’s desires and needs at the heart of your decision. Making a decision about your aging parent is merely taking care of a problem.
When making a decision for your aging parent consider these four questions:
1. Is this something that could be dangerous to them or to others?
The first and most important question you should ask yourself is whether they and others will be safe. Yes, they want to drive the car but are they really able to do so safely? Everyday things like walking to the bathroom without help, taking showers unassisted, walking without their walker or cane are all things where safety trumps their desire for independence.
With age comes physical limitations like limited mobility, imbalance, less intuition, and slower response times. In addition any injury to an elderly person will take much longer to heal than an able bodied adult.
Always remember that it’s better your parent be angry with you for a few moments then be hurt or hurt someone else.
2. Will this affect their quality of life and how?
Our privilege as caregivers is to provide the best quality of life to our aging parent. We want them to be happy and carefree in their twilight years. Sometimes our decisions are not what they want to hear at the moment but we know that they will fell better about it in the long run.
My MIL has had Type 2 Diabetes off and on for many years. That means that even when she doesn’t have it, she is at a greater risk. A healthy diet is important for everyone but I also know when my MIL eats certain foods it affects her mental health as well. When she eats too much sugar it causes:
- A dramatic decline in energy
- Cognitive impairment
Of course, when my MIL see sweet things she wants to eat them. She’s not thinking about the consequences of her eating more sugar. She’s not remembering the other sugars she’s had that day. When I remind her that eating those sweet things is not a good idea she gets angry. But, I know that her being mad at me (or more rightly the situation) for a short time is better than several days of miserable recovery.
3. Will this cause a decline in their overall health and well-being?
One of our biggest concerns as caregivers is the health of our parent. We want their overall health to add to their quality of life.
This is a particular concern when thinking about potential medical treatment plans. Think about your parent’s current health conditions. Are they curable? Is the treatment worth any of the side effects or potential complications?
My MIL was on a medication that caused her to be extremely irritable. I soon discovered her irritability was because this medicine caused her extreme fatigue. I discussed this with her doctor and he agreed that the medicine did not provide enough treatment to warrant the decline in her quality of life.
4. What would their right-minded, wise decision be?
Even though the person our parent is now may be different from the person we remember, it’s important that we still consider their desires when making decisions for them. We should never impose our tastes, values, and personal life choices on our parent.
Try to make decisions you know they would have made had they grown old and not needed your help.
Make Decisions Confidently
- If you have siblings, make sure you are discussing all of this with them. Form a plan together and put it in writing. Become a team for your aging parent.
- Set up power of attorney, living will, estate executor, and legal council before it becomes urgent.
- Make big decisions with a trusted group of advisors. Too often, when big decisions arise we make them hastily with our emotions rather than thoughtfully with our head. Discussing them with a group brings different perspectives and clarity. It also prevents one person from being blamed or judged if the decision turns out to be a poor one.
- Keep records of your parent’s care. This is not only to protect you legally. If something were to happen to you, your parent’s care would fall on someone else. Don’t let them be caught off guard and your parent’s care stall.
We don’t like to think of our parent’s getting old and making poor decisions. With planning and discussion you will know when and how to make decisions for your aging parent.
Did you like this post? What are some things you consider when making decisions for your aging parent? Let me know in the comments below.
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