Caregivers

Becoming a Caregiver to an Aging Parent

Written by Anthony Emecheta

Studies have shown that Black people provide more support to aging parents compared to White people. A 2011 publication by Fingerman, et al. attributed this to “beliefs about support and feelings of personal reward”—and it is easy to see why.

In most Black communities, children are taught the importance of communal living and that nothing is as powerful as parental blessings. That is why most Black people will visit their parents and seek their blessings before taking crucial life-changing decisions. You can’t possibly expect to get your parent’s blessings if you don’t take care of them.

In these communities, aging parents live with their children until their last breath. This explains why most Black-dominated countries don’t have extensive nursing homes. This is different in White communities where aging parents are often sent to nursing homes.

According to the American Society on Aging, Black caregivers are less likely to have gone through a formal training process which could make it harder for them to cope with the mental and physical requirement that comes with the process.

Therefore, individuals in the Black community, knowing how to become a caregiver to an aging parent is more of a life skill versus formal training. Having the right information and preparing for the challenges that come with providing care to aging parents can make the entire process easier.

Why Black people are less likely to enlist professional caregivers

Besides cultural beliefs, several other reasons may prevent Black people from enlisting the services of a professional caregiver or taking their aging parents to a care facility. Some of the reasons often highlighted include:

Stigma

There is often a stigma that comes with entrusting the care of loved ones to someone outside the immediate family, friends, and close relatives. In some Black communities, it is interpreted as being ungrateful or having a lack of good sense.

Black people either see it as their moral obligation or find fulfillment in being caregivers to their aging parents. Therefore, individuals of aging parents will try to fit into the role of a caregiver—even if they have no professional training on how to do that effectively.

Racism

Black families that live in White-dominated communities are often skeptical about enrolling their aging parents in a care facility for fear that they may suffer discrimination. This is further exacerbated by historically poor interactions between medical staff and Black people which often lead to misdiagnosis.

In a survey by the American Society on Aging, 56% of Black caregivers who participated in that survey reported difficulty coordinating with nurses, doctors, and service workers. One of the respondents said, “Healthcare providers aren’t patient, don’t listen, and tend to make assumptions about Blacks”. These sentiments make it harder for Black people to employ paid/professional caregivers.

Cost

In the United States, keeping an aging parent in a nursing home can cost an upward of $9,000 monthly. As such, many people in the Black community are already struggling financially and may be unable to afford such an amount. Therefore, they are often stuck with no option except to be their parent’s caregiver.

How to efficiently be a caregiver to an aging parent

Serving as a caregiver to an aging parent is not an easy task. If not properly managed, it can lead to burnout where you feel overwhelmed finding the balance between being a caregiver and coping with your day-to-day life. Here is a guide to becoming a caregiver for an aging parent.

Know when your role begins as a caregiver

The first step to becoming a caregiver for a parent is knowing when to step in. From declining cognitive functions to deteriorating health conditions or new diagnoses, becoming your parent’s caregiver will usually start when they are unable to complete their daily tasks without assistance.

It may be a role as small as reminding them to take their medications or helping them to get up from the bed or chair. Staying close to your parents at this time will help you to identify behavioral changes and know when they need assistance.

Set reasonable expectations and know your limit

Caring for aging parents requires compassion and patience. There will be good and bad days because your parents will always want to be in charge. So, because you want them to be safe, you also don’t want to infantilize them or threaten their independence—which will only increase their frustration. Also, know when to take a few hours break and recharge physically and mentally and make plans for someone to take your role at such times.

Clear communication on your limits is the key to finding the balance. Your parent needs to understand what you can help them do and when you need to involve a third party. Also, don’t just tell your parent to stop driving. Explain to them why they need to stop driving. That should ease the friction and help them to feel respected.

Make necessary home modifications

Home modifications are necessary when living with aging parents to prevent slip and fall injuries. These modifications can be anything from making sure the floor is free from clutter to installing handrails and grab bars in wet areas like bathrooms.

Caregiving is an involving task that will get more difficult if you have parents with deteriorating health. It can take a toll on your physical, mental, and emotional health—and may even drain your finances. Planning for the eventual and setting clear and realistic goals are important steps that can lighten the burden.

Also, you need to establish relationships with healthcare professionals, especially those with extensive experience in assisted living. Such a relationship can help you to detect when your parent needs lifesaving professional intervention.

For more reading

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3202703/

https://generations.asaging.org/meeting-needs-african-american-caregivers

https://meetcaregivers.com/family-caregivers-caring-for-aging-parents/

About the author

Anthony Emecheta

Anthony Emecheta holds a master’s degree in microbiology. He is a passionate educator and particularly an advocate of racial equality. He strongly believes the world will be a better place if we all see ourselves as humans first before anything else.

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