How to Care for an Aging Parent

How can you repay someone who did so much for you?
How can you repay someone who did so much for you?

Receiving bills is an unfortunate side effect of having a mailing address. Each month, we all receive some variety of financial statements reminding us to pay up for the services we received. Water, cable and credit card bills we expect, but what if you went to your mailbox one day to find a statement from your parents, a completely itemized account of your childhood expenses on legal stationery? That's what happened to writer Bernard Cooper, who titled his 2006 memoir "The Bill From My Father" in reference to the $2 million his dad claimed he was due.

While many of us may hear joking horror stories about the hours spent in labor or more serious tales of parental dreams deferred so that we could go to our first-choice college, few of us are ever asked for financial remittance for the time and effort that went into raising us as children. However, as people live longer, more and more children, now grown, are finding that there does come a time when they pay their parents back.

As parents age, roles become reversed as their adult children become the caregivers. Sometimes, it's just providing a quick ride to the store, the way your mother might have driven you before you had your license. Other times, you may find yourself changing the diapers of the person who once changed yours. Gone is the hope and joy that comes from changing a baby's diapers, though; for grown children, it's immensely difficult to see a parent's independence and dignity stripped away.

­But even as a caregiver's heart breaks in that instance, at the very same moment the caregiver may be resentful that he or she has less time to spend with his or her own family or on the job. The caregiver may be engaged in a delicate dance with other members of the family concerned about the aging parent, as well as negotiating the new parental relationship. Caring for an aging parent can truly be a roller coaster of emotions that requires one's very best sense of humor, communication and organization skills, and patience.

­It may be heartening to learn, though, that in a national survey of caregivers, more than 80 percent said they found caregiving rewarding. That doesn't mean it's not difficult, particularly when you're thrust into the role due to a crisis like a stroke or a fall in the home. In this article, we'll give you some of the tips you'll need to move past the chaos to find the reward.