How to Help Aging Parents Without Overstepping Boundaries

Helping your aging parents just enough, but not too much, can make it tough to strike a balance that preserves your relationship and their independence as much as possible. If you’re not sure what to do, here are ways to help aging parents without overstepping boundaries:

Know their relationship styles.

Not all parents have the same relationship with their adult children. Some seniors will push away any help offered and insist on living alone even when it is no longer safe or feasible for them to do so. Knowing which way your parents tend to act will help you understand how to approach them best and what to do.

Set healthy boundaries.

Knowing your parents’ emotional tendencies will help you set boundaries appropriately. For example, if your aging parents tend to be demanding, you might need to develop a boundary, such as no calls during work hours or in the middle of the night unless it’s a true emergency. If your parents always ignore your offers to come by, you might need to mandate a weekly check-in so you can confirm they’re doing okay. Setting healthy boundaries can be challenging, but it will help you both maintain positive relationships over the long term.

Help them maintain independence.

There are many small changes that you can make to help your parents age in place and maintain independence as they get older. For instance, women’s and men’s adaptive clothing make it possible for people with arthritis in their hands to keep dressing themselves even after traditional closures such as buttons become impossible to operate. Grab bars and shower chairs make it safe to use the bathroom independently. Making such changes will help them feel independent for as long as possible.

Let them take the lead when possible.

Often, it feels easier to do things for your parents instead of letting them take the lead. While this may feel more convenient for you, it can be a blow to their self-esteem. Let your parents take the lead whenever possible to help keep their skills sharp. If they express frustration with a task, gently ask if they need help with part of it and offer your assistance. They may refuse, but at least they know you are willing to help.

Watch out for warning signs.

If your parents are very independent, then it’s highly likely they will steadfastly refuse help even when they need it. It can also be challenging for older adults to understand how much their function is declining.

Don’t give more than you can.

If and when your parents get to the point where they need significant or even full-time care, be honest with yourself about how much help you can give, especially considering your other commitments, such as a job and kids. Your parents might be more willing to accept assistance from a third-party caregiver than their kids.  Even having a part-time caregiver for a couple of days can significantly affect their quality of life.

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