Making Plans for Elderly Parents

Here’s a tip for those who have elderly parents: hold your plans loosely.

You are going on a journey just a much as they are. It starts with a shock when you realize that mom or dad is no longer king of the world, but a person dependent on your and others’ care. Learning to negotiate the world of caregivers and elder institutions and the medical system takes time and energy that you never dreamed you were going to have to give. It’s not easy to figure out what’s needed, let alone how to provide it. Coordinating your efforts with your siblings and other friends and relatives can be quite trying.

If you are lucky, though, you get it figured out. Mom or dad settles into a new routine, with wonderful caring people to help. And you breathe a sigh of relief. You can go back to doing whatever you were doing when you were interrupted.

But it won’t last.

Looking back at my own father’s slow decline from Alzheimer’s, I remember multiple stops that were almost blissful. We were incredibly grateful when a Fijian man helped with dad’s daily shower, and gave my mom a break. Then came the Catholic respite care, which Dad loved to attend. Then we found the care home where lovely Filipino helpers treated dad gently and patiently.

But each of these steps—and lots of other smaller ones along the way—reached an end. They were great—until they weren’t.

When the system hiccups, you feel consternation. What is wrong with these people, this institution? We have to fix it! You think that, once having imposed equilibrium, you have a right to it.

Guess again. The norm has become change. Give thanks for the system that works, but be on the alert for its time of phasing out. The wonderful caregiver shows up late three mornings in a row because she has a grandchild in the hospital, and when you try to talk about it she quits. The assisted living home asks your parent to leave because he has fought with one of the other clients. Your mother falls and, after a stint in the hospital, must find new housing that provides skilled nursing care. Your father can’t renew his drivers’ license and suddenly cannot get groceries for himself. Your mother who has dedicated her life to nursing your father to the end is found on the floor of their apartment, exhausted and dehydrated.

What you learn is a lot like the lessons you learned raising toddlers. You respond to what’s happening now. It’s day by day, week by week, month by month. You don’t project too much into the future. You are amazed and thankful for the way that God brings the right people and programs into your life, just when you are most hopeless and desperate. It will work out. How, you are never quite sure.

After you’ve been through this a time or two, you are amazed at how much denial there is in the world—and used to be in yours. Aging and death are utterly predictable. But when they show up at our door they surprise us every time, and we spend quite a bit of time and energy pretending they haven’t come to stay.

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7 Responses to “Making Plans for Elderly Parents”

  1. silas Says:

    i’ll keep all this in mind. ha ha.

  2. mindy Says:

    Thanks, Tim. I’m finding what you say to be very true in my parents’ lives as well.

  3. Despr8caregiver Says:

    As caregivers for my elderly father, we at Inside Aging Parent Care know just how true the rollar coaster that you are describing is. There is no stability, but caregivers try hard to provide it because the care recipient is in such a terrifying position. I guess one of the gifts of caregiving are the lessons in letting go that continue to come until the end.

  4. Jan Heinen Says:

    Hi Tim,
    Caregiving for the past four years for my blind 91 year old mother with dementia has proved to me that much of what you say is absolutely true. Especially the part about living day by day, week by week, month by month. Thankfully, God has given me peace about living this way, and I trust He will until this phase of my life is over.

  5. Dawn Says:

    Would love to read some online sermons from your Dad’s files.
    He influenced so many students over the years!
    I was thinking just yesterday about a text and later realized: Chase must have preached a sermon on that and it’s still in my head!

    • timstafford Says:

      Thanks for that. My dad’s reading of Scripture still reverberates in my brain, too. You know, he was such a thinker that it was very hard to even imagine him having a life when his intellect was gone. But actually he did. At one stage he treasured some devotional guides, poring over every line and underlining copiously. These were books he would not have given the time of day, earlier in his life. But they meant a lot to him, because his life in Christ meant so much to him. He got softer and more verbally appreciative as his intellect left him, and more responsive to physical touch. The trip wasn’t easy, and I wouldn’t want to go through it again, but it wasn’t a nightmare, either. That’s largely because we found such wonderful sources of care to help us at every step of the way.

  6. Elder Care: Why the Perfect Solution May Not Last « OurParents Says:

    […] can read his post here: “Making Plans for Elderly Parents.” Tomorrow, we’ll cover an elder care option that includes the expectation of change: a […]

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