Payne: Prepare to Care for Aging Relatives

This is truly one of life’s greatest challenges. Few people are prepared to be caregivers or care recipients. First we must recognize that growing older is a natural part of the lifecycle. That means that we must accept aging with grace, humor and dignity. That is difficult to do in this culture, where mass media extol the beauty and energy of the young.But accepting aging in oneself and others is critical if one is to thrive during the inevitable changes that accompany growing old.

All of the literature on caregiving describes how mature adults can themselves become frail and ill while providing care for others, particularly if the care recipient is a spouse. While caregiving has many, many rewards, frankly, the emotional and physical toll on the caregiver can be overwhelming. As we approach growing older, therefore, it will be important for all of us to arm ourselves with as many resources as we can on elder law, financial literacy, support groups, home health care, grief and family counseling, and types of housing for every stage of health needs. This is a good start.

It will also be important to talk with family members early about their roles in providing care for aging relatives in the immediate and extended family. As soon as possible, we should make certain that health care directives, wills, powers of attorney and other legal documents are in place so our own wishes and the wishes of present and future care recipients are clearly delineated.

As for our own care, there may be a time when we will have to stop driving and rely on our family support networks for even daily care. As I tell my students, no one wants to give up being independent, but that, too, is a part of the lifecycle. Be open to accepting change in oneself and one’s living situation. Lastly, celebrate the love, concern and care that others give us in our times of need. 

Joan C. Payne, Ph.D., ASHA fellow, is a professor and interim chair of Howard University’s Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders. 

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