As an elderly parent nears their final days, time spent with them is precious but can also be strained. Your parent’s life, as well as your own, will be tremendously impacted by the physical, emotional, and even spiritual changes that he or she is experiencing.
So how do you best support a dying parent? Though every situation is different, we will offer a few guidelines in an effort to support you during this time.
When your loved one is in the final stages of life, you will probably notice some physical changes occurring. The biggest changes may come in his/her appetite, sleeping patterns, and/or breathing habits. As you begin to observe these changes, some of them may seem insignificant; however, others may require a visit to a physician or a nurse.
This provides an opportunity for you to ask for warning signs and symptoms that you should watch out for as well as suggestions for responding to those changes. You might also bring a medical professional into the home to do an assessment on your loved one’s living conditions and health.
In addition to the physical changes that your elderly parent may be experiencing, he or she may also be coping with difficult emotions, such as anger, sadness, fear, anxiety, and even guilt. This sometimes rapid change in emotions may lead him/her to withdraw.
When a person is aging or growing increasingly ill, he/she still wants to feel a sense of control. Losing control often leads someone to grow stubborn and resistant towards others’ assistance. Consequently, family relationships may change due to the increasing level of stress—stress on your loved one for coping with illness and stress on you for the added responsibility of caregiving.
Part of the responsibility of caregiving is adjusting to plans for the future. When you’re caring for a dying parent, you will be faced with a series of decisions, including living wills, power of attorney, health care proxy, hospice care, etc. If possible, it is best to discuss these things well before an illness is in its final phase. It’s important not to feel rushed into making these decisions as you don’t want to do anything rash.
Get others involved, including family members and friends who are among those who will make decisions on your parent’s behalf. Open a line of communication and encourage others to begin thinking about these things if they haven’t already done so.
Remember Your Needs
With that in mind, it is important to remember to take care of yourself throughout this process. When caring for someone else who requires a lot of your attention, it becomes too easy to neglect your own needs. You too will experience a range of emotions while caring for your loved one who’s declining. You may find it difficult to concentrate at work, feel a sense of worthlessness, or grow tired often.
It’s imperative that you take care of yourself, or you may find caring for another individual a dreadful task. Be sure to get enough rest, exercise regularly, and eat nutritious meals. Anything that will contribute to your overall health and well-being will not only be good for you but for your dying parent as well.
Perhaps the most important thing you can do throughout this process is communicate. Keep your family and friends in the loop. Offer up ways that they can help. Ask your physician or healthcare provider about what resources are available. You’ll need clarity and sometimes additional support. At the very least, communication opens the door to a support system.