When your own parents need care. About half of all men and two thirds of all women will need care in the course of their lives.

My father is 83. He hikes in the forest for two hours every day, goes to the gym three times a week. He has been practising interval fasting for a long time without knowing what it is. He does not drink a single drop of alcohol. When he goes to the doctor for a check-up, he sighs and says, “I’d like to have those values too.” My father looks 65 at the most. On our last family holiday together, he mixed up the bathrooms in two adjoining houses with similar furnishings, used other people’s toothbrushes, didn’t know where he was for a moment. It shocked him. My mother later sat next to me on the beach crying and said, “Here we go.” She’ll be 81 soon, she’s as fit as he is. My parents hoped, as did both of us daughters, that this would probably go on forever, until one day they died a relatively quick unspectacular death. Just like my grandmother and my great-grandmother, who both went to bed at 83 with only minor ailments of old age, didn’t get up and announce, now I don’t want any more. Enough living. Time to go. They died within two weeks.

My parents therefore live according to the principle: we only talk about the last common path when we have already died. There is no “before”. Out of fear, repression, even bottomless optimism? They don’t want to talk about the fact that they could suddenly become in need of care, maybe even almost at the same time, about dwindling strength, unreasonable decisions, holding on to the impossible. And if it is only driving their beloved car without a hearing aid and with incipient dementia and above all with a large portion of old age stubbornness. Who will take care of them then, of the house they want to stay in and definitely not leave for a care facility? What will be when my father has perhaps not only mixed up rooms and forgotten the medals he used to win as a gymnast, but also the woman he has been married to for almost 60 years.

The figures alone prove that all this can happen very quickly. About half of all men and two thirds of all women will need care in the course of their lives. By 2030, the number of people in need of care in Germany will grow to six million, says the current BARMER care report. Most of them would like to be cared for at home. And in fact, 72 percent of all those in need of care are cared for there, 50 percent by their relatives alone. Only 27 percent of those in need of care are placed in a full inpatient home. In less than ten years, almost three million people in need of care will be cared for exclusively by their relatives, which is about 630,000 more than in 2020.

Many of the relatives, and in most cases these are still the daughters, are caught in this situation in the middle of the sandwich phase of their lives. The children are not yet out of the house, in doubt they are in puberty and you are in the middle of the menopause. On top of that, you often have to give 100 per cent at work. But how can that be done? At the same time, changing the mother in need of care and not letting the demented father out of one’s sight, when one lives 400 kilometres away, is the only child or the siblings refuse to step in as well, because family, job, partnership already push them to the daily limits, that is therefore impossible for very many. And then there is the question of whether you have to give up your job in order to give back something of the love you have received throughout your life.

We don’t want to lose our parents, but we often react defensively at first to the first small signs of their decline, we show ourselves to be annoyed, reproving, impatient, and yet we know that it’s all unfair and that we ourselves are only like this because fear rises up in us of what is to come and of what has to be addressed. Because it makes our own lives more final, shakes solid certainties: The parents, who at best were and are security, home and support, they will be gone in the all too near future.

Feelings such as fear, being overwhelmed, sadness spread, as also shown by the responses to the topic in the newsletter. Compassion, helplessness, stress, anger. A whirlpool of emotions, confronted by helplessness as to how to deal with this new situation. When one is no longer a child oneself, but the parents suddenly become children who demand attention, care and gratitude or also reject them. “You constantly go against your parents’ will or take away their autonomy,” writes one of you. “My mother kept blaming us for locking her away when she had to go head over heels to the nursing home after a stroke,” another. “It was all terrible, took 10 years and I don’t know how I could do it all on top of my job and relationship,” a third.

This “everything” always includes taking care of tenancy agreements, the parents’ home, taxes, doctor’s appointments, hospital powers of attorney, visits, wills, incapacitation. The list is endless, and almost no one is prepared for it, neither parents nor adult children. Is it possible to prepare at all, and if so, how? What do you want from society when it comes to parents in need of care? We will share your answers, precautionary tips and contact points with you in a next article on the topic, and there will also be answers from experts on the topic of “How do I even talk to my still healthy parents about this phase”, are there taboos and how should both sides deal with the finiteness of life early enough.