Do you have a parent who is, or parents who are, getting up there in years? What are you doing about their health, their care, their finances? What are you supposed to be doing? To find answers to these questions, I went to my local library. I had hoped that experts, people with hands-on experience, and well, any ole’ do-gooders could tell me how to proceed with my own aging mother. The books themselves were reassuring in general, but in my specific case, the “How To” and “What’s Next” advice was not particularly helpful. Although I learned a bit from each book, no book garnered my unfettered attention. The problems and solutions explained in these books weren’t specific enough to help me with my parent.
Perhaps, step-by-step specifics are less helpful in meeting the your parents’ needs than are global principles about helping others. Here are a few general pointers that are based on empirical research. These are not necessarily particular only to elderly caring giving, but instead are broadly applicable to solving problems of everyday life.
1. Social Support: Everyone needs it! “Dad had been strong all his life.” “Mom is a loner.” However you describe your parent, he or she needs social support. A comprehensive research review conducted by Uchino, Cacioppo, and Kiecolt-Glaser (1996, Psychological Bulletin) suggests that people who have higher levels of social support have better cardiovascular, endocrine, and immune functioning. Moreover, much psychological research suggests that those who have greater social support are better off psychologically. One study, conducted by Ownsworth, Henderson, and Chambers, (2010, Psycho-Oncology) showed that caregivers who reported higher social support reported more positive psychological well-being. It seems clear that we may need to slow down and ensure that our parents receive the social support they need. In whatever way you can, provide your parent social support, do so. But you cannot do everything; do what you are particularly suited toward. If you are good at finances provide this type of “instrumental support.” If you are good at listening, provide this type of “emotional support.” Just as important, recognize your own need for social support; gather it wherever you can-from your partner, your own children, friends, co-workers. Garnering social support from others will strengthen you and your ability to provide support for your parent.