Assisting Aging Parents in the Family Home

The last few years I’ve been immersed in the care of my aging parents. I have a great deal of experience with clients in this position and was prepared for the experience to be difficult, emotional and complicated. I did not expect it to be as overwhelming as it is; dealing with forgetfulness and change in personality brought on by age and dementia, safety issues caused by physical challenges, a desire to stay at home, the limitations of available care both private and public, and a fine balance between neglect and respect. By my nature and profession, I have the benefit of being a strong organizer and an efficient problem solver. Even still, it is daunting.

The task of sorting, cleaning and purging a family home is huge for the young and healthy. It can be impossible for the elderly. If this labour of love falls to you, don’t hesitate to ask for help from friends, family and professionals.

Here are some strategies that will help.

  • Assess any repairs and deficiencies that may be needed for continued safe living in and/or for sale of the home.
  • If the home is to be sold soon or in the future, get your Stager’s and Realtor’s advice to determine how it should be staged for best marketability, including condition and contents which will meet buyer expectations.
  • Don’t be surprised if things are far worse than you expected. It can be a delayed reaction to see your parents as the ones who need you rather than the other way around. If your parents are experiencing memory loss or dementia they may not realize or admit to an inability to cope like they used to. Guiding senses we take for granted such as sight and smell may be failing for your parents.
  • Start the process of purging anything that is no longer needed. Older generations often keep everything, just in case, which can lead to an unhealthy living environment. If you cannot be largely unemotional during this process, have someone work with you who can.
  • Sort items to be removed into piles of give-aways and throw-aways. Check with local charities as to what items they are willing to take and if they can pick up. Consider a yard sale, estate agent, or Kijiji if there are items you wish to sell.
  • If your parents are still living in the home, they may not be as good as they once were at keeping house. They may not notice or be willing to ask for help. Awareness of their surroundings may be reduced. What was once an easy task like mowing the lawn or replacing a light bulb may have become unnoticed or too difficult. A regular checking in and willingness to take charge is a great gift you can give them.
  • Whether your parents are staying in the house or moving, organizing their closets and cupboards, paring down for them, ensuring proper nutrition and medications, and arranging regular, thorough cleaning may be greatly needed and appreciated.
  • If your parents are moving they may need your help arranging movers and packers, disconnecting and connecting utilities, deciding what to take, shopping for new things needed, and getting used to their new home and surroundings.
  • If your parents have care workers don’t expect them to deal with anything beyond their immediate needs. Everything else will still need your attention.

Give yourself the time needed and ask for help. Chances are this is not a weekend job. I did a big purge and sort job for my parents recently. It took three weeks to organize the main living space plus several weekends to empty out the basement. That leaves four bedrooms and a double garage for another day.

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