The Top 5 Differences between Caring for Elderly Parents vs Children

Caregivers who are also parents may initially think that caring for elderly parents will be like caring for children. However, these two types of care are not the same. In addition to the glaring age difference between those you are caring for, their experiences, history and perspective on the future present a stark contrast. This means that caregivers may need to reframe the approach they use with their elderly parents. The day-to-day life of seniors can be challenging for them. It’s certainly not all fun and games. Getting older is unlikely to bring the excitement children feel as they approach another birthday. This reality requires a shift in the way caregivers who have children support their aging parents. 

Expect Tears

Children may get angry or burst into tears when things aren’t going their way. Yes, they may be sad or upset but sometimes these outbursts are aimed at persuading someone to help them get what they want. Our response in these situations is likely to be totally different from your internal, or externally visible, reaction when we see our once-strong father or mother shed tears of despair. Even if we never see the tears, we can sense our aging parent’s frustration as they come to terms with the new limitations.

Feeling Like There Is No End in Sight

Children grow up fast, meaning that they become less and less dependent on us. On the other hand, elderly parents may become increasingly dependent on us. Worse yet, as they lose more and more pieces of their younger selves, they tend to be aware of their regression and have difficulty adjusting to decreasing independence. Caregivers need to prepare themselves for the idea that caring for seniors may become more physically and emotionally challenging with time. This requires patience and resilience for both parties. The best approach is to simply take each day as it comes.

The Weight of Decision-Making

Like the issue of dependence, decision-making for children is very different from trying to make the right choices for our elderly parents. Children are an open book. As the parents, we decide what will be best for your little ones, based on your life experience and good judgment. Those who are a generation older than us have had even more life experience and have deeply ingrained preferences, yet dementia or other brain disorders may leave them ill-equipped to make sound choices. Decisions related to medical options, diet, finances and the home environment, among others, will rest on caregivers’ shoulders. It can be tricky to try to figure out what will best suit adults whose personalities have been formed over several decades. Make decisions on their behalf respectfully and practically.

Let Them Have a Say

In some cases, our elders may be facing solely physical challenges and all their mental faculties are intact. However, if caregivers have a broader understanding of the issue at hand, considering modern developments, it may be tempting to direct our aging parents’ decisions. This may be disheartening for them or even frustrating. The last thing we want is to add to their pile of worries. Find out what they would prefer. Remember you’re speaking with a parent, not a child. Calmly explain the details that it would be wise for them to consider, including how their decision may affect you in the long-run, and leave them to make the call on the path they wish to take.

Hoping for Compliance

Parents can get used to telling their children what to do and expecting them to obey. Our role as caregivers, guiding aging parents is totally different. Shape your approach as one of genuine concern. Gently show them what is best for them or a new way of doing things that will make life easier for them.

Even if they are initially resistant to changes to their familiar routine, patiently focus on the benefits of doing things differently and with time they are likely to come around. Brace yourself. They may outright defy whatever is being put in place for them. Don’t reach into your parenting toolkit, thinking you can discipline them by depriving them of something they like or some other tactic that works with children. Trust that persistent efforts to show why a change is needed and how much better it can work than the alternative will eventually win out.

Final Thoughts

Caregivers need to put themselves in their elderly parents’ shoes. How would you feel if you realized that day by day your physical and mental abilities were diminishing? You certainly wouldn’t want to be treated like a child. At any stage, our parents are still the ones. Who raised us and supported us, helping us to become the productive adults we are today. For that reason, they deserve our respect. The best we can do is to prepare ourselves for the rollercoaster of emotions they will experience as they age. They will grow increasingly dependent on us and we may have to mindfully make decisions. That are in their best interest or show them new ways of doing things. However, we need to bring them on board gently and cultivate more of the patience. We tap into as parents ourselves.