As your parents age, you will likely experience a subtle yet significant change in the dynamics of your family and relationship. Stepping into the role of caregiver for your senior loved one may not be what you had envisioned when you were younger, however, for many adult children, this shift in the parent-child relationship is part of their reality.
The role of a caregiver can look very different depending on the needs of your loved one, but acting as an advocate is often a primary responsibility. Read more about how to become a better advocate for your parent during this time.
How to Advocate for Your Parent or Senior Loved One
The role of caregiver for a parent or senior loved one can vary greatly depending on their health and needs, from accompanying them to medical appointments to providing hands-on, personal care – all while striking a balance between supporting their best interests and empowering them to remain the primary decision-maker.
The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) describes the role of an advocate as an individual who will “ensure the best life possible for our family and friends when they are vulnerable.”
This includes several importance factors, such as:
- Ensuring they receive appropriate, high-quality and timely services and support
- Helping manage personal affairs, such as financial, health and legal matters
- Representing their best interest when they are unable to represent themselves
- Understanding wishes for care and quality of life – and ensuring these wishes are followed
Family Communication Is Key
An area that families tend to struggle with is striking the balance between assisting a parent or senior loved one to make the best choices for themselves and taking over the decision-making process entirely.
It is important to remember that although the responsibilities of giving and receiving care may have reversed, the child does not become the parent and the parent does not become the child. Rather, the senior parent is an adult, capable of choice, who simply needs assistance and support.
Communicating with your senior loved one in a compassionate and respectful manner will set a positive tone and encourage them to be receptive of your help. Keep in mind that “listening is just as important as speaking” when communicating with a loved one and will allow you to better understand their desires, feelings and thoughts.
Ways to Advocate From a Distance
If you live at a distance from your senior loved one, you can still be an informed and supportive advocate.
There are ways that you can play an active role in their life, even if you live far away:
1. Check in regularly.
Set a specific time each day or week to check in with your parent or senior loved one to ensure that they are being well cared for and that nothing significant has changed with their health. Keeping conversations enjoyable and light will allow you to garner key information about how they are doing and feeling, without coming across as an interrogation.
2. Have a plan.
Try to have two plans in place: one for day-to-day matters, such as medication management and meal preparation and another in case of an emergency. An emergency action plan should outline important details about who will be the first to respond in the event of an emergency, as well as important medical wishes.
3. Know where to access important information.
PBS suggests keeping a “care notebook” that contains your parent or senior loved one’s important health information in a central location. Hard copies (or information on where to locate originals) of contact information, financial records and personal documents are important items to consider including in this notebook.
4. Learn what help is available.
PBS also suggests educating yourself on the care and services that are available to your loved one in their specific area. This can include home support, nutritious meal programs, transportation assistance or volunteer services – to name a few options.
5. Stay connected.
Communicating with the people who make up your parent or senior loved ones’ circle of care is the most important aspect of staying connected and being informed of their health status when you live at a distance. Connecting with local family members and friends, formal caregivers and neighbors regularly will allow you to hear multiple perspectives about your loved one’s overall well-being.
Advocating for your loved one does not need to be an additional burden or responsibility if you follow the above steps.
Reprinted from A Place for Mom