How to help and honor aging parents

Our parents raised us, and now they need help. So what is our obligation to them? This is one of the most agonizing decisions to make as an adult. We are forced to face the irreversible deterioration of someone we love, as well as the difficult decision of how we should approach their care. These things are rarely planned and have a long learning curve.

For some, the answer is clear. In order to honor their parents, many stand up to offer their own personal care. For others, making sure that professional assistance is available is how they honor their parents. But it gets harder when you are unwilling, for whatever reason, to participate in providing care and become the martyr because it is expected. Many of these expectations come from your cultural heritage. Generations of your family had their parents live with them for help, and so should you. Never mind that you are working, or your house is not set up for care, or emotionally you cannot keep up the tradition. Sometimes, those expectations come from other people’s opinions on how things should be done. “You put your mother into assisted living? Why? When my mother needed help, she moved in with us.”

It is often difficult to sort out the best solution for both you and your parents when there are feelings of guilt. Guilt is a powerful motivator to drive some adult children to provide care. For many, it is self-administered guilt, and for others, the guilt has been heaped on over the decades by others. And for some, it is the constant worry of, “Am I doing the right thing?”

This really can affect your emotional well-being. Not to mention that this may be the first time you have actually looked at your own mortality. It can seem very overwhelming and, at times, unsolvable.

You are not alone. There is a tremendous amount of help out there, from support groups to Web sites with information. This can make all the difference on how you get through the labyrinth of decision making for both you and your parents.

No matter what decision is made for your parents, it should not negate who you are or who your loved one is. It is OK to be mindful about who provides the care. There is no map or formula on the best way to take care of your parents when they need help. It really is about what makes sense for the situation — can you live with your decision, and is it the best decision, with what you know now.

Betsy Zuber, geriatric specialist for the city, can be reached at (206) 275-7752 or

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