12 Ways to Support a Failing Parent + Free Psalm 91 Word Art

It’s Coming – Get Prepared

{scroll to the end for the free Psalm 91 Word Art}

 Most will experience one or more parent’s decline in health, whether it be mental, physical or both.
You can’t be 100% prepared, but perhaps my 12 tips borne from personal experience can help make your journey easier.
When it comes your turn, I hope you will be able to say, “I got this.”
I’ll wait while you go grab some coffee – this is a long one…

Caring for an Elderly Parent {Love My DIY Home}{1} When Things Get Tough…

Watch and wait for the moment you must step in and reverse roles with your mother. She has taken care of you her whole life but will eventually need you to start taking care of her. You both will know when the time is right, though you should expect some resistance. Independence is a hard thing to lose and once we lose it, we may not get it back. This will be foremost in your mom’s mind. Be the kind of daughter/son she can trust. Taking proactive steps like securing a life insurance policy can provide financial support when needed. Here is a great Primerica life insurance review to guide you in making informed decisions for your family’s well-being. And if you’re looking for affordable insurance coverage, get one today from sites like Forbrukerguiden.
Mom had been widowed for 30 years so it was doubly hard for her to let me step in when things started getting too tough for her to handle. She had been going to a doctor that prescribed whatever Mom asked for and accepted whatever she said. When her doctor mentioned Mom might have a heart issue, Mom told her she didn’t want any tests or intervention because she was too old. Mom kept getting sick and her last two years she spent a lot of time in the hospital. Since her doctor wasn’t connected to the hospital Mom frequented, there was no communication or followup. This was a major problem, especially since I began to see her suffer and felt like she was failing. She began to have an extreme fear of dying by suffocation.
I convinced her to try a different doctor and made the calls myself. I lined one up and he discovered a possible blockage which led us to a heart cathe revealing 12 (yes, 12) 75-90% blockages. She only had 2-12 months according to the cardiologist which led to a quadruple bypass and valve replacement.
Caring for an Elderly Parent {Love My DIY Home}

{2} Become the Squeeky Wheel

Ask questions – ask them until you annoy the fire out of the nurses, doctors, technicians, respiratory therapists, receptionists, surgeons, Physicians assistants, whomever, wherever you are. It’s the only way you can build your knowledge base for future decisions.
I had no medical experience so I was flying blind when I started going to doctor visits and sitting through the emergency hospital runs. I knew I had to get facts fast so I spend hours online researching congestive heart failure, asthma, COPD, etc. – all the suggested causes of her frequent illnesses. After three hospitalizations with not definitive diagnosis, I finally found out through a quick conversation with the respiratory therapist that most likely she didn’t have COPD – it was congestive heart failure because she hadn’t taken her water pills as prescribed. That led me to research medications, ask questions of the medical friends at church, and making suggestions and requests of the doctors and nurses which by this time had numbered in the dozens.
By the time we reached the hospice house, I had become well versed in “old people” and confident I could get answers and make good decisions. Once I educated myself on congestive heart failure, I knew how to help her through each episode and avoid the hospital until she could decide if she should to have the heart surgery.

{3} Be Cynical, Wary and Untrusting

Seriously! Double check whatever the “professionals” say and do and never leave the decisions up to others. Educate yourself and keep good records of vitals, medications, dates and details of every episode, illness and hospital, doctor and ER visit. Remember the “professionals” are just people and don’t always know what is best for your mom. If you appear knowledgeable (#2 above) the doctors will give you respect and honor your choices for your mom.
We were fortunate – we had excellent surgeons, nurses, doctors, hospice workers, etc. But what if you don’t? And even if you do, how will they know you are competant if you don’t assert yourself and come prepared and confident?
I checked every medication, every suggestion and every treatment. I wrote down every detail and kept track of her meds. I explained it all to Mom each time we talked to a doctor or nurse – I discovered she missed half of everything the doctors told her because she DIDN’T HEAR THEM! People with poor hearing learn to fill in the blanks and act like they heard everything. It becomes a habit early on that carries over into every area. I ate and drank and slept her treatments, meds and diagnosis.
The new doctor refused to continue prescribing Mom’s headache medicine because of the side affects and risks. He told her there were better ones out there but she was so angry with him that she refusd to go back to the new doctor, and arranged to go back to her old doctor to get them. Later, when she was in cardio rehab, the supervisor told her she shouldn’t be taking that meds too, but she wasn’t convinced because she’d been taking them (double doses) for over 20 years! I did a bunch of research on that med and printed off pages and pages of side effects and studies. We discovered her loopy behavior after surgery was from the headache meds. My sister and I sat down with her and explained, giving her to papers I had run off. She decided on her own to stop taking them. Whew! No more loopy behavior (for her) and sleepless nights  stressing over the side effects (for me)!
We took control of her meds and used a pill Sunday through Saturday AM & PM pill holder to keep track, along with a typed copy to refer to for filling. I double and triple checked while filing and kept close track of what she took. I was prepared to dispense them if necessary.
Caring for an Elderly Parent {Love My DIY Home}

{4} Shoot EVERYTHING…and Bathe Her in Babies

Take tons of pictures before, during and after your mom’s decline. Not only would it be great to preserve memories, you will have the material for a great slide show at your own Pepper Party. Encourage the grandkids to visit often and long.
We have tons of pictures – and not just of good times. We also got pics of her in the emergency room, hospital bed, rehab, nursing home and hospice. We took videos of her describing her courtship with my dad and exercising at cardio rehab. We have pictures of her last days in hospice along with all the family that sat with her. Death is a part of life. We need to remember every moment. It’s how we learn and grow, cope and heal.
Some of our best memories are of the special times with grandkids. Once we couldn’t find 3 year old great grandson Myles and after looking for several minutes found him tucked in bed with Meemaw watching TV with her cordless earphones perched on his head. We snapped a picture so we can always remember her as Myles’ Meemaw, not the sick old lady that lived downstairs. Bring the babies around when Meemaw is well and when she is sick. Have them a part of her recovery and decline. Have them say “hello” and “goodbye.” It will not only be a comfort to her, but develop compassion in them.
Caring for an Elderly Parent {Love My DIY Home}
This was taken on Mom’s 86th birthday, a couple of months before her heart surgery. You can tell it was a happy moment for her, and grandsons Hudson, Myles and Isaac will always have that moment to look back on.

{5} March to your mom’s own drummer…and Talk, Talk, Talk.

Don’t just do things like everyone else. Tailor your every move to your mom’s needs – do things her way and respect her wishes before and after. Tradition isn’t always best. Be creative and consider Mom and those left behind. Talk to your mom before the serious moments come so you know what she wants. Talk about the hard things. Find out what she fears. Know what matters to her. Make a list of who she would like her posessions to go to. Know her well enough that you are confident being her spokesperson. The devil is in the details.
We set up Mom’s apartment to make things easier and more comfortable (though I must admit she wasn’t happy with me when she came home from the hospital and I had moved her things around and tidied up). She moved in with us 12 years ago – though she never wanted people to know she “lived with her daughter.” She would tell people, “My daughter lives with me.” or  “I live in an apartment in the same building as my daughter and son-in-law.” Ha! These things were true, but said in a way that she could maintain her personal pride. She was fiercely independent and wanted everyone to know it. I would tell the doctors on the sly that she lived with us and would be watched over – otherwise they would have treated her as a live alone old person.
When she was in the emergency room, I knew she was vain about her wig. I helped her keep it on through it all (except when she tried to keep it on through surgery!). I’ll never forget watching her fight to breathe with one hand on the cpap and one hand pulling down on her wig to try to keep it in place. It was important to her, so it was important to me.
My mom wasn’t a kissy huggy type, so I didn’t get all mushy with her during rehab or hospice. My love was shown by being by her side and protecting her, managing everyone and everything around her and making decisions that she would make if she could. I knew her love for her grandkids and great grand kids, so I arranged for them to be with her as much as possible. Know your mom.
When she had a stroke, every step of the way during decision times I made decisions I knew she would have made. I never rushed, got lots of input and made decisions only when I was ready. She had enough confidence in me, because we had talked so much, that she could concentrate on getting through without worrying about making decisions. Of course, I had to earn her trust before this could have been possible. When we made the transition into hospice, I knew everything had been done, every decision that was made, was according to her wishes. That knowledge has carried me through every stage of grief and allowed me to sleep at night with no regrets.
{I will tell you about our three Pepper Parties soon – It was our own unique way we chose to celebrate my Mom’s life rather than mourn her passing.}

{6} Plan Your Escape

Give yourself permission as caregiver to meet your own needs too. Know your limitations. Know the limitations of your family. Make your decisions based on what is best for Mom, those who love her and…it’s OK to consider your needs and wants too. After all, if you have been the one that has been by her side through it all, it will help you deal.
Since you have to be attentive to Mom 24/7 you must keep yourself well and rested as much as possible. It’s not easy to do and takes a bit of planning, but if you make it a priority, it will be easier to pull off. Let others fill in and take over when possible, but make sure they are consistent and do things the way you would for your Mom.
There was a time just after her stroke that I had to decide if I would bring her home, send her to rehab or use hospice. Since I knew mom feared a long and arduous rehab (she was 86), I knew that she wouldn’t choose rehab – there was no hope for a full recovery. My only choice was bring her home or contact hospice. My daughter, Jillian, offered to come home from Virginia and care for her in my home if I didn’t want to use hospice, but I knew that I wasn’t up for it and couldn’t ask her to do it either. For both our sakes and in consideration for Mom, I chose hospice. It turned out to be a perfect choice – they were amazing and made a difficult time easier for our family.
If you decide on hospice, go visit first. Make sure you are comfortable with your decision. Go meet the people running it, check out the rooms and find out how they care for their clients, both the patient and family.
Here are some photos of the actual hospice house we used. Of course you don’t need anything this elaborate, but it didn’t hurt!
Caring for an Elderly Parent {Love My DIY Home}  Caring for an Elderly Parent {Love My DIY Home} Caring for an Elderly Parent {Love My DIY Home} Caring for an Elderly Parent {Love My DIY Home}
This one is of her hospice room – very eye appealing and comfortable. We spent many days there and it felt like home. One evening, Mark was particularly tired but didn’t want to leave me alone while at the hospice house, so he snoozed in the livingroom chair. While walking by, one of the hospice nurses saw him stretched out in one of the lounge armchairs and covered him up with a blanket. This is the type of hospice house caring you are looking for. Little touches make a difference.
Caring for an Elderly Parent {Love My DIY Home}

{7} Be the Frame to Her Picture

Be by her side as much as possible when she is ill, in the hospital, rehab, nursing home, or hospice. Explain everything in detail until she understands what is happening to ward off fear. Constantly reassure her you WANT to be by her side and that she is no trouble. Stick to your guns when you interract with hospital personnel and be polite while you get your point across. If you act unsure they will run you over – get confident and be your mom’s advocate. If you don’t, no one will.
Preparing for a Pepper Party {Love My DIY Home}
It takes time to get to know a person intimately – so get started now. Don’t wait until you get a diagnosis or find your mom stretched out on the floor after a stroke. Your job as caregiver is more than wiping her brow or getting her a wheelchair when she’s tired out. Ask her questions. Watch her responses. Listen to her comments. Watch for opportunities to make her life better, easier, more comfortable. When looking back, you will be glad you did everything you could to make her life and even her transition through the valley better. Regret is a bugger.

{8} A Day Late and a Dollar Short

Realize that no matter how much you do or how long you have taken care of her, you will always want one more day.  Don’t just rush through your care giving. Remember every moment as if it won’t last, because it won’t.
Be frugal in as many areas as possible, but don’t make all your decisions solely based on money.
God is not limited. Walking in the Spirit doesn’t just have to do with our mindset or moral code. The Holy Spirit will direct and sometimes He will tell you that it’s time to leave frugality at the door. This is a life changing situation and not just for the one passing on in to eternity. These decisions will affect you and others left behind for their entire lifetime. If I had decided against hospice because of the money, we would not have had the family experience that we all will talk about for many years to come. Losing someone is hard, but it doesn’t have to be devastating.

(9) Have a Little Cheese with Your Whine

Don’t keep details to yourself. Share non-personal details about your care giving with your trusted family and friends. It not only helps you cope, they might lend insight and/or support. It will be the fuel that keeps you going.
Of course, discretion is advised, but never do it all alone. Sharing will also help you cope once Mom passes on. This is part of taking care of yourself. I called my sister and brothers while in the midst of some of the tough decisions because I needed a sounding board. I Bounced ideas off of them to get their take on the situation and gain from their insight. I talked with my DH, my kids and even considered my grandkids when going through the decision making process. There were a lot of factors and I wanted to cover all the bases. I kept family posted as each moment unfolded. Their reactions, needs and opinions helped form mine. If you do this, there will be no surpises, your family will be prepared every step of the way, and you will feel confident. No regrets!
Caring for an Elderly Parent {Love My DIY Home}

{10} Eat the Frog First

Spend hours talking to Mom to find out who she is, how she wants to live and how she wants to die. When the tough decision time comes, you will be prepared. You still won’t like it, but you will know what to do. Your confidence in knowing your mom’s wishes will help keep away those who have a different opinion. If you can start your sentences out with, “Mom said…” you have slain the first dragon.
There is no doubt that caring for your mom in her last days will be difficult, even mind blowing at times. When she had her stroke, I knew by past conversations that this would be the realization of her most terrifying fear – to be stuck in a body that didn’t work any more. She feared lingering. She feared nursing homes and being a burden to family. All of this worked in to my decision making. But it was still difficult to decide on hospice. Essentially you are making the statement that “Mom is going to die and we are going to help her do it her way.” Since I had been very open and shared all of this with family, when the time to make the tough decisions, my family was supportive {mostly}.
How does a daughter deal with that? How does a daughter tell the nurses that Mom is going to hospice and they aren’t to do anything more to keep her alive? HOW DID I DO THAT? I started by telling Mom what happened to her and asking if she wanted to do rehab. Since she was not aware of anything going on around her due to the stroke, we prayed for an opportunity, a moment where she was clear enough to listen and take in what I was saying.
By considering past conversations with her and seeing her reaction to the news of her stroke and options, I knew what had to be done. BUT, I didn’t want to make the decision. When I share with you her timeline {in a future post}, you will hear exactly how the decision was made – BY MOM. God was good enough to me to give her one last moment of clarity, to allow her to make the decision, taking it out of my hands. {Stay tuned – though it was a somber, God given event, it was a moment that we refer to with some amusement.}

{11} Bite Your Tongue and Smile

Strongly encourage and direct Mom during the times she is struggling, but don’t ruin your relationship constantly 24/7 pushing her to do things she doesn’t want to do. If she won’t eat or drink enough, do her exercises, or get up and get ready for rehab, then just gently prod her and do the crazy running around needed to accomplish her goals – making up for her lack. Fill in her gaps. Go the extra mile to help her.
When I was going through rehab with Mom, she resisted all the way. She didn’t want to go. She repeatedly said It’s was too cold outside to venture out. She was too tired. They pushed her too much. She didn’t feel good.
Caring for an Elderly Parent {Love My DIY Home}
There was always a reason why she didn’t eat enough, drink enough, or do exercises at home. I would lay awake at night stressing over her physical condition during her rehab after surgery. It was wearing me down. I had a bad cold, hadn’t gotten much sleep and still had to function in every area in my life from church duties, work and blogging. I was at my wits end, so I talked to a friend at church that had experience working with patients. He said, “Don’t ruin your relationship with your mom pushing her to do things she doesn’t want to do.” After he said that, I asked, “Even if it leads to her demise?” He answered, “Yes.”
Profound? No. Correct? Yes. Then and there I decided I wouldn’t push her to the point she was upset or defensive. I just told her she had to go and that I would help her. When I would go down to ther apartment to make sure she was getting ready for rehad, I ALWAYS found her sitting on the edge of her bed – not ready. Rather than nag her or push her, I just said, “You have to go and I will help you get ready.”
I got her wig, her teeth and clothes. I helped her dress when needed and got her breakfast. I poured her water, coffee and got her utensils – and yes, the correct fork. Always it must be the correct fork! After she ate I made sure she took her meds and got her cane or walker, purse, water, kleenex box, and coat, gloves and scarf. I helped her walk to the car and then into the hospital.
Our relationship was good through it all. No regrets. I did what I had to do. Was it a pain? Yes. Am I glad I did. YES.

{12} Be a Mom to Your Mom

Be kind and gracious to your mom – ALWAYS. That doesn’t mean you ignore her needs by being a pushover.  BUT you can be kind while insisting. If there is a time you must put your foot down, appeal to her by reminding her of how everyone around her has made sacrifices to get her well/take care of her/meet her needs etc. Do your best to carefully explain and prove your point when asking something of her.
Realize she has been in control of her life until now and it’s hard to let someone else be in control. There will be melt downs – make sure it’s not you. When mom does have her melt downs, cool her off with positive encouragement. My sister was a great example of this. Her DH had heart issues and surgeries, so she had experience dealing with a reluctant patient.
She was demanding, but kind while doing it. She told Mom what she needed to do and then followed through to make sure she did it. She pushed her to take control of her rehab and didn’t take no for an answer. She explained everything and gave her examples of how her DH made it through after his surgery. She didn’t cry and beg. She just stated what needed to be done and then helped her do it. She gave her space before and after but stuck to her schedule and got it done. I had to work tons of hours that week so that is why my sister flew out and stepped in. I couldn’t have done it without her, both because I had to be away and because I saw how she did it and carried on after she left. Find yourself help and learn how to deal with someone who is bipolar and angry from those who have experience.
Caring for an Elderly Parent {Love My DIY Home}
This was taken on the morning of Mom’s heart surgery. Can you see it wasn’t a happy day for me? Notice I bought my daughter along for support. Don’t be afraid to find yourself support to help you as you support your Mom. 
Plan, pray and do. Be kind. Be firm. Ask questions. Consider everything you’ve learned and seen and then act on it. Have confidence. Follow through. Have balance and use wisdom. Get help. Get support.
Next, I will give you our timeline and then will tell you about our Pepper Parties. We were unconventional, to say the least.
Until then, hug your mom and those who you care about. Time is short. Remember, you will always want one more day, so cherish today and every day thereafter that you are gifted with your loved ones.
Val @ Love My DIY Home
More in the series:
If you need help caring for a loved one with dementia or alzheimers, visit my friend Mike Good’s site: Together in This. Mike is the founder of an online community that helps family members care for those with Alzheimer’s or other dementia. As author of the Introductory Guide to Alzheimer’s as well as other helpful articles, he guides caregivers, helps them take control, and promotes peace-of-mind.

5 thoughts on “12 Ways to Support a Failing Parent + Free Psalm 91 Word Art”

  1. It is very difficult when the parent starts to slip into the "child" role, and the child has to take over the "parent" role.  As our Mom declined and the dementia increased, for safety reasons, we had to put Mom in assisted living.  I agree — VISIT many places, bring a friend or a sibling and get a second opinion.  Find a place that you feel comfortable with.  The Willows in St. Joseph was a wonderful facility, and they had many wonderful activities for the residents as well as some 4-legged residents, a large salt water aquarium, and a bird to entertain the residents as well as the visitors.

    Mom's been in Heaven now for 2 years, and they still talk about her at The Willows!  She was quite the character!

  2. One of our favorite memories of Mom while she was drifting out of reality:  When we would take her out to dinner, we would count how many times she would comment on the price of gas, the fact that the restaurant wasn't busy (we usually took her to dinner around 3 or 4 p.m.), or ask who was taking care of the kids — she really meant our grandchildren; her great grandchildren.  I miss that now!

    • Cecilia, There are so many quirky things we all miss about mom too. So many good memories! We talk often about different occasions where Mom dominated the moment. It’s hard to believe she is really gone.

  3. Dear Val,

    God must have known I needed to read your words today and discover your wonderful blog.  My mother has dementia and today was a really rough day.  I am exhausted, not sleeping, or 'present' mentally for my family some days.  But you are right that time is short and I need to give Mom more hugs and say  "I love you" more often. Thank you for sharing from your heart.  God bless and keep you!  BTW, thanks also for the referral to Mike Good's "together in this" – great resource!


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Love My DIY Home