Have you ever wondered if it’s okay to hire professionals to help you care for an aging parent? Being Chinese, my parents taught me the cultural value of caring for elders. My grandparents were treated as part of our immediate family unit and I had the opportunity to live with them for over twenty years. My grandparents thrived living with family (they were exceptionally healthy for their age), so naturally I came to believe family ought to be the sole caregivers for elderly relatives.

After college, I moved back home. I was in my twenties; my grandparents were in their nineties.  As a young professional, I landed my first job at a local retirement community. All of the sudden, I gained exposure to senior living in two very different settings. One was in the home environment, the other was in the professional senior living environment.

From day one on the job, I was surprised. My workplace was nothing like the dingy nursing homes I had visited as a child. It didn’t smell funky and my colleagues were skilled and nice, not down-lows that couldn’t get a job elsewhere. With a capital “L,” I came to love and admire the professionals who dedicate their career to serving older adults. My colleagues brought care, compassion, and cheer to the seniors they served. And the seniors they served were blessed.

Despite having a positive experience at work, I still believed family should care for their elders. Not professionals. You see, if my grandparents needed help, my family and I worked together to help them. And it was clear. My grandparents wanted family to be the ones caring for them; it meant so much more.

When it comes to caring for our elders, here’s the truth of the matter—nothing beats family.

There comes a time, however, when an older adult’s health begins to decline, and we realize we need more help. Yet what are we to do? On the one hand, we’re tired. On the other hand, we feel terribly guilty even considering the idea of hiring professionals to help. Whether the guilt is self-inflicted or communicated clearly to us by our aging parent, this is a dilemma is full of conflicting emotions.  

After observing my own family and many other families throughout my career, I’ve concluded most families are capable of caring for an older loved one, that is if their elder is healthy and independent. What we don’t realize, however, is that when an elder’s health declines noticeably, our families are often not large enough, close enough, strong enough, available enough, knowledgeable enough, or emotionally prepared to shoulder the intense commitment and labor involved in 24/7 caregiving. Even though our family was willing, large, and tight knit, there came a time when my grandparents (at separate times) needed to be moved into a senior living facility.

This is not an “out” for families. As family, we need to be involved in our parent’s care. If as a caregiver you are weary, then you probably already know you need help. Through my personal and professional experiences serving older adults, this is something I’ve learned: don’t rule out the professionals.

While I cringed and cried when we had to move my grandparents into an assisted living and nursing home, the experience reminded me that we often overlook some major benefits of incorporating professionals into our care team. Personally, having professionals help to care for my grandparent’s physical needs allowed our family more time, energy, and patience to care for them in other ways. It made their overall quality of life better. Our family had more time to sort out finances, insurance, and paperwork. Our family had more time to coordinate and communicate with my grandparent’s healthcare providers. Our family was offered more space to process and grieve as we watched my grandparent’s health decline. Ultimately, letting professionals step in allowed my family and me to be more present in our conversations and visits with them. This made the last months of my grandparent’s life much sweeter.

When it comes to caring for an aging parent then, which do you think is better? Family or the professional? I still side with the belief that nothing beats family. When you start snapping at your loved one, forgetting things, or dozing off because the numerous tasks of caregiving have taken their toll on you, then it’s time to get more help. When you consider all the options, remember don’t rule out the professionals. If you find the right professionals to join your village, they will strengthen your team, and allow your aging parent to receive the best quality care. Not only from the professional, but from the people they love. From you.

ISABEL TOM is an author and speaker passionate about serving the older adult population. Between growing up in an intergenerational household and working in the field of aging, Isabel has over 35 years of experience with older adults. Her grandparents, who lived until 98 and 102, had a profound impact on her life. Professionally, she has over 13 years experience working at reputable healthcare organizations. She holds an MPH from the University of Maryland, College-Park. She has been married to her husband, Kevin, for ten years and they have three little ones who keep life fun. Check out her blog at www.aboutbeingold.com to learn more.