An older adult couple lives alone on a farm. Their children, Joe and Jackie, live far away and often worry about their parents’ safety. Their father has become more unsteady on his feet, and their mother can hardly support him alone. Filled with anxiety and guilt, Joe and Jackie find an assisted living facility for their parents.
How should they bring up this sensitive topic with their parents? Who should have the final say about the living situation? What are the impacts of this decison?
This hypothetical situation was one of many that arose during a recent “Conversations on Aging” workshop. During the discussion, outreach professionals from Iowa State University talked about changes caregivers face as their loved ones age.
The workshop highlighted how changes in family dynamics throughout caregiving can cause resentment, fear, anger, confusion and more. Watching a once-familiar loved one change in health and behavior affects both caregivers and their families.
“One way to deal with the stress is to look at the positive outcomes of change,” said Malisa Rader, a human science specialist who helped run the workshop.
Although caregivers may face loss as their loved one’s age, Rader explained, they can gain satisfaction in giving support and foster compassion for others with shared experiences.
“You’re not alone in how you’re feeling,” agreed Sandra McKinnon, a human sciences specialist.
McKinnon emphasized the importance of talking openly about the struggles of both aging and caregiving, even when it’s difficult.
“Even though we know the future comes and death and dying are part of that, we’re not always taught how to talk about that or if it’s OK to talk about it,” she said.
One main focus of the workshop was how caregivers and older adults can communicate effectively and have tough conversations. This involves sharing information, offering opinions only when asked, listening effectively and saying what you mean.
McKinnon stressed the value of “I” statements, starting with “I feel,” “I need,” or “I like.” Conversations starting this way show personal concern and allow caregivers and older adults to clarify their feelings.
“When family members feel their needs and concerns have been recognized, the door is opened for mutual problem-solving,” McKinnon said.
McKinnon and Rader explained that although caregivers cannot change their loved ones (and vice versa), both parties can set realistic expectations and find positive ways to work together.
“Sometimes you have to learn each other’s strengths,” McKinnon said.
Caregivers and older adults who want to know more about aging can visit Iowa State University’s Human Sciences page for information on health, nutrition, finance and more.