6 min read

The Psychology of Supporting Your Ageing Parents

Supporting your parents as they age can be the most meaningful way to give back. And, with loneliness and awareness of its deep damage on the rise, making this support a priority can be instrumental in helping your parents live a happy, healthy and fulfilling older life. Today we translate a psychological perspective into practical tips for supporting your parents and yourself during this sometimes challenging time.

Supporting ageing parents

As your parents age, their dependency on you, and your siblings, can increase. For many, this represents a confusing and disorientating time, with the dynamic of your relationship changing and parents struggling to adjust to an increasing loss of independence. Without a doubt, it’s a transition. There’s a lot of responsibility to take on, as well as the added burden of stress.

The good news? Your efforts to support your parents have the power to make, break or prolong their old age. Whether it's helping with the weekly grocery shop, picking up prescriptions or just keeping them social, this time represents the ultimate opportunity to give back. We cover some evidence-based tips on how to meet your parents' needs, keep yourself (semi) sane, and maintain a good relationship in these years.

Let's start with the fundamentals of what psychology has to say on supporting the needs of others, and how this relates to supporting your ageing parents.

How to support your ageing parents?

One way to strategise support for your ageing parents is through Maslow's hierarchy of needs. This well-known theory breaks down the different levels of fundamental human needs, which must be successively fulfilled in order to maintain wellbeing.

In a rush? Here's an express checklist of how to support your parents needs with this framework:

  1. Ensure they have food, warmth and medicine

  2. Maintain their safety & financial security

  3. Keep them social

  4. Maintain boundaries & show appreciation

  5. Encourage hobbies and new challenges

Interested to learn more? Below, we dive deeper into this theory within the context of supporting ageing parents.

  1. Physiological needs: Covers the basic needs for survival such as food, water, shelter, and clothing.

As our parents age, they may have difficulties completing the basic daily tasks needed to keep them healthy. Helping keep the cupboards stocked, the laundry done and the house a good temperature might seem like small tasks, but they help foster a fundamental sense of safety and support for your parents. The same goes for providing assistance with medical care; through picking up prescriptions, helping organise a pill-taking system and arranging doctors appointments. These efforts go far beyond meeting physical needs, and can even sooth your parents anxiety about their increasing dependency needs.

2. Safety and security needs: Includes the need for physical and emotional security.

This can include things like a stable home, financial security, and protection from harm. Ageing can make us feel particularly vulnerable in these regards, as we become more dependent on others for physical and financial protections. Providing financial support and keeping an eye out for scams or people taking advantage is therefore another crucial step to meeting your parents fundamental needs. This may include things like helping them create a budget, reviewing their investments and pensions, and assisting them with filing for government benefits. Or, ensuring your parents' home is suitable to meet all their needs is a crucial first step in supporting them in old age. Regardless of how it manifests, consistently communicating this support of your parents safety and security needs is fundamental to supporting your parents wellbeing.

3. Love and belonging needs: Covers the need for socialisation, companionship, and a sense of belonging.

Humans are fundamentally social beings, and the need for community and meaningful social support is as important to our health as meeting physical survival needs. The damage of loneliness- from risk of dementia, impaired physical health from chronic stress and mental health from increased risk of depression- is widely reported and deeply damaging. Older people are particularly at risk, and so one of the most important things to consider in supporting your parents is providing social support. Keeping them involved in the community, helping provide lifts to see friends and bringing the family together goes a long way.

4. Esteem needs: This includes the need for self-esteem, self-respect, and the respect of others.

If loss of independence is associated with an equal loss in all that brought your parents accomplishment, recognition and validation, this can be damaging for their mental wellbeing. An important effort to maintain a healthy relationship with your parents is offsetting this loss. This can involve making them feel appreciated, and providing opportunities for them to maintain independence and autonomy. Flexibility, kindness, empathy and a dedication to listening- on both ends- is crucial. This can also highlight the need for boundaries in your specific child to parent care relationship, and the need for professional support for some areas of personal care.

5. Sense of purpose: This includes the need for self-fulfilment and the realisation of our potential.

This covers the highest level of needs and can include things like personal growth, and creativity. It's another important support box to tick when also trying to maintain a healthy relationship dynamic. And, whether its a community class or a new hobby, encouraging your parents to try new things can provide a sense of fulfilment as well as reduce the risk of dementia and cognitive decline.

Supporting yourself:

You’ve got to be in a good place yourself, to provide the best support to other people. Looking after yourself prevents burnout and associated counter-productivity in providing support to your parents. Using the same framework, we provide some helpful tips on looking out for your own wellbeing during this time:

  1. Nourish your body, get plenty of sleep and prioritise your own health needs

  2. Have financial savings to maintain peace of mind against any unforeseen expenses

  3. Prioritise time with your own friends, community and immediate family

  4. Create boundaries and be kind to yourself

  5. Safeguard time for your hobbies and personal projects

Supporting your parents and immediate family can feel all consuming. But preventing this ‘job’ from taking over your life can be a real case of quality > quantity when it comes to making meaningful and sustainable differences to others.

To Wrap Up

Supporting ageing parents requires patience, understanding, and a willingness to help. But more than this, it involves meeting fundamental mental and emotional needs on both ends.

If you and your parents need support in making provisions for the future, or planning ahead during this time, Safewill can help. We offer flexible, simple and affordable estate and end of life planning, personalised to your needs. You can discuss your options with one of our experts today, via 1800 103 310 , or live chat now.

Last updated 20th January 2023
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Hannah Comiskey
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