In 1994, 3 percent of men and 9 percent of women provided most basic care for a senior citizen; by 2008, those numbers had skyrocketed to 17 percent and 28 percent. These are just the people who provide full-time or nearly full-time care. They do not include the millions of other people who spend significant parts of their lives ferrying loved ones back and forth between doctor’s appointments, helping with grocery shopping, providing meals three or four nights a week, and so on.

Sometimes, the loss of independence is a gradual thing. For example, memory problems might begin with misplacing the car keys and escalate into something more dangerous. Other times, this loss occurs almost overnight, as a majority of senior fall victims cannot live independently even after they mostly recover from their injuries.

Since there is a very good chance that you will be the caregiver for a senior parent, or that you will at least have a close friend who goes through this process, it’s important to have some idea of what to expect.

Managing The Initial “Role Reversal”

Especially in the sudden-loss-of-independence cases, the jolting transition is not easy for anyone to handle. Seniors go from almost completely independent to almost completely dependent, and caregivers suddenly move from almost complete control over their own schedules to a long list of unexpected commitments.

These changes are even harder on all concerned if the relationship between needy senior and unwilling caregiver is distant or strained, and that is normally the case, at least to some extent.

To help everyone, it’s important for caregivers to find the “sweet spot” between spending every waking moment worrying about an ailing parent and doing almost nothing to address the situation. There is no right or wrong answer, as that place is different for everyone, and it often changes over time.

Coping With Change

In the next phase of the caregiver relationship, it’s quite common for things to begin to go wrong, and knowing what to expect helps make things go right.

After a few months, caregivers often become resentful. All the hours they spend with their ailing parents, as well as all the dollars they spend, start adding up. And in this world of scarcity, an hour spent one place is an hour that can’t be spent somewhere else, such as with one’s own family and friends.

Of course, the change is not easy on seniors either, especially when the relationship arrives at this point and it’s obvious that their dependency is most likely permanent.

The good news is that both parties are usually ready to be more realistic about their expectations and feelings, so it’s a good time to set some extended ground rules. In a perfect world, this conversation would have already taken place, but we do not live in a perfect world and instead must try to get by the best we can.

Preserving Independence

It’s normally in everyone’s best interests for ailing seniors to remain in their homes for as long as possible and do as much for themselves as they can. Little things make a big difference. For example, you can find nonslip bath mats here, and there are many other living aids that are readily available. It also may be a good idea to retain a home health aid for a day or two a week, to give both caregivers and seniors a break in the routine. Finally, don’t be afraid to recruit nearby friends and neighbors who are usually happy to contribute to the cause, because as a rule of thumb, the more help, the better.

Having an idea of what to expect makes the caregiving transition easier on all concerned.