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Caring For An Elderly Parent at Home

Updated on February 4, 2013
Marye Audet profile image

Marye Audet-White is an internationally known food writer, food editor for Texas Living, cookbook author, and food blogger.

Image: Courtesy of NBC News
Image: Courtesy of NBC News

The Sandwich

I have been the filling in a sandwich. Really.

You see, a few years ago we moved my mom in to our home for what was to be the last six months of her life. I was sandwiched in between raising my children, and caring for my mom, and I may have been the peanut butter holding the whole thing together but it was one of the hardest, yet most rewarding things I have done in my life. I would not trade those moments for all of the treasure of Solomon. I would not choose to relive them for a million dollars.

Many of us find ourselves with aging parents and the dilemma of how to juggle their needs with the needs of our spouses and children. It is never an easy choice but it can work if you have a good support system in place and you are able provide for the needs of your parent. In fact, not only can it work, but it may be the best educational experience you can give to your child as well.

My Experience

My mother was diagnosed with ventricular tachycardia when she was in her 80s. During a near death experience the doctors put in a defibrillator to shock her heart back into rhythm when it began to beat too fast. Because it was an emergency situation they did it without consulting me.

Personally, I believe that if someone has had a good healthy life into their 80s, installing a device like a defibrillator is really not a great idea. However, what was done was done. They were not completely able to control her heartbeat and so she had a very fast heart rate which made her nervous and jumpy. She went from caring for herself, her house, vegetable garden,dog, and horse to being unable to walk much farther than the chair, or the bathroom, from her bed. Her doctor felt that a nursing home was the only option, however he agreed that she would probably be happier with me.

We frantically painted and decorated a downstairs bedroom for her. Everyone looked forward to her moving in because we are a very close knit family. The day came when we brought her home and settled her into her new room. Although she appreciated everything we had done she was unhappy. She was lonely, she was depressed because she could not do the things she used to and, not being used to being around her beloved grandkids 24/7, the kids noise made her nervous. Actually everything made her jumpy and nervous because of the medications she was on.

The medications made her increasingly angry, paranoid, and depressed. More and more I had to take on the role of parent, more and more she reverted into child. Rather than hearing words of love and acceptance from my mom I dealt with angry outbursts and two year old tantrums. My husband and I drove her to appointments, to the beauty parlor, everywhere. We had to watch her in the kitchen with knives, with appliances, with everything.

But something wonderful happened. We learned to be patient. To love in the face of anger, and we saw our children develop compassion, gentleness, and a respect for old people. They read her stories, they spent time talking to her,holding her hand, laughing and joking with her. They learned that death and dying is a natural part of life and living, and that sometimes we lose ourselves in the process. So they loved this new gramma not for who she was but for how she used to be.

They, and we are changed. We will never be the same. And I am glad.

Some Things That Will Help

There are things that can make it easier. Understanding that this is a tough time and accepting that there will be stress is a big step in making whole thing easier.

1. Have a network of support : Mine was my husband, my family, and my church. You have to have someone you can talk to. My best friend came and stayed with mom every couple of Sundays so I could go to church. My husband held me while I cried and diverted some of my mom's anger from me to himself when it got bad. You need support.

2. Have a GOOD geriatric doctor: I loved my mom's doctor. He specialized in geriatrics and so he was able to explain many things to me about why she was doing the things she was doing. He also made housecalls! You are going to need have a doctor you can communicate with and that has an understanding and compassion for you as well as your parent.

3. Maintain a sense of humor: Stuff happens. Try to laugh it off. There was a period of several days where my mom would take the pan out of the bedside toilet, and then forget that she had and use it. Quite a mess to clean up. Embarrassing to her, and more work for me. But laughter and a cheerful attitude made all the difference for both of us.

4.Realize that it isn't forever: Really. It will be over, your parent will be gone and you will wish that you could spend an hour with them just once more. Learn to enjoy the moments.

5.Be flexible: Being easy going will help you to maintain your sanity.

6.Let your parent help: They are used to being independent. Give them laundry to fold, a table to dust or something that they can do.

7.Listen: Now is the time to get the family recipe for chocolate cake or the story about Uncle Fred's run in with the cow. My mom had a poem she used to recite and I tried and tried to memorize it...I couldn't and it is gone now.

8. Get help: Your doctor can guide you to various services that are available to help, from visiting nurses, to home health care workers that can come in and help with showers and such.

9. Get Away: Do what you need to do to make sure you have a day or an afternoon away.

10. Pray, meditate, or get quiet time: You need to feed your spirit.


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    • profile image


      4 years ago

      I am caring for my wonderful little Greek mum in her own home. Thanks to a wonderful husband daughters and friends i have great support. My cousin and his wife in Virginia cared for mu aunt. God bless and love to all carers.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      My dad is bitter. He is alone in this life now. All older relatives are dead and most friends are either deceased or incapacitated. The medical doctors are not very well versed in older folks and their frailties.

      I wish I had a doctor to consult with just for the sake of knowing if a certain procedure might be too much for my dad to handle. I am finding out that I know squat about old folks. I shop, clean, do yardwork, run errands, stay for weeks at a time if needed. But I feel I am coming up short as far as knowing what his elderly body can handle when it comes to the medical things. I will continue to do what I think is right by him, but for right now, I feel completely incompetent.

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      After the past five years of utter chaos in my life involving the care of my elderly mother, I am blessed by this article. I loved that you said about loving one in the face of anger, that you learned to be patient, and the need to listen to them. I have a blog about quilting where I express my experiences with my mom on occasion. Hop on over and visit me some. Http://

    • starme77 profile image


      6 years ago

      I have been taking care of who is now my ex-mother in law going on the 4th year now - through a bad divorce of a terrible 20 year marriage - in the end I have her as well as my sixteen year old daughter - I write sometimes, when I get time since I am also a full time student at University of Phoenix online. Broke all the time haha _ Yes Patience - oh yes is something learned and my daughter who started with virtually none has grown into a wonderful youg woman who enjoys her grandmother who is now 88 :) thanks for a great hub it makes all the seense in the world :)

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Great Hub! Thanks for sharing. There are so many people going through something similar and I'm sure many can relate to your situation. I'm not there yet but it won't be much longer. I think keeping a sense of humor is important!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Thank you so much for this article. I needed all this info and reminders! Dad drives me crazy sometimes!

    • profile image

      Uma Mahi 

      6 years ago

      Great post and this reminded me of watching my grandma on the deathbed. Thanks for sharing.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Thank u so much for sharing your story. I currently have both parents living with us. They are 91. Reading your story makes me feel I am not alone in what I am experiencing. My husband supports me. My teenagers are struggling right now. I would not have it any other way to have my parents with us. They have always been there for us.

    • Tonipet profile image

      Tonette Fornillos 

      6 years ago from The City of Generals

      Thanks for sharing this. Your being a sandwich between people you love so much just to be able to give the best for them is truly very rewarding. It takes genuine love for someone to make it. They're lucky to have you Marye, no wonder you're successful. More power!

    • carolinemoon profile image


      7 years ago

      Thanks for the more information, I've learned more.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Thank you so much for this lovely article. I've had my mother-in-law live in our home for 16 years and cared for her through her quadruple heart by-pass. Too often I see the negative side of looking after her but you have helped me to change my mental outlook. Thank you so much.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I took care of my parents for 17 & 1/2 years. Most exquisite and painful journey you could imagine. My Mother had a stroke and was paralyzed on the left side. My father had Alzheimer's. My husband & children were amazing. We all learned so many life lessons. There are not enough resources for families going through the process.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Thank you so much for sharing. Much insight and info that I didn't know. My Mom has been with us for nearly 4 years, we just celebrated her 90th BDay in 12/10...but is beginning to have internal problems. The 'paitence, laughter, and knowledge' is so helpful. Thank you and may God Bless!!!

    • JLSB profile image


      7 years ago

      What a great hub, and you are great people for realizing that there was a lot of good that came out of a lot of hardship. I took care of my mom off and on for about 30 years. She was at time able to care for her self and other times she couldn't. There were times where that was even very hard. They are worse then a child as they have experienced life and know what they are missing. They can't understand why they can't do all the things they did before. Even though my mom could live alone at times, she still had to be looked after. To make sure she was getting meds and going to the doctor or whatever. But I am glad I did it. I loved my mom very much. Still do. You have helped a lot of people I am sure.Thanks JLSB

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      great info , just on time to share to my sister who will be taking care of my mother starting today - jan 16,2011 .

    • Kristine Manley profile image

      Donna Kristine 

      7 years ago from Atlanta, GA

      I sure am glad to have come across this Hub. My Mom and I have been together most of my life, yes, I said my life. She is now in her seventies and very cranky. I find it a pleasure to go to work and leave my house when I can for a much needed break. I do love my Mom, but caring for her can be taxing. Thank you for sharing.

    • profile image

      Nancy DuPree 

      7 years ago

      Hi - I have just started with hub pages and found this article. I am going through this now with my elderly mother. Last year I was taking care of my husband and my mother. My husband passed away Nov 30 last year. Now it's just me and my mom.

      You're right about perspective, prayer, and support systems. Only way I've halfway survived this emotionally.

      I am hoping hub pages will give us some much needed extra income so I can continue staying at home and taking care of my mom.

      A new friend at church told me that Area Council on Ageing has funds to pay a family member to stay at home and take care of an elderly relative. So I will look into this, too. They also have support groups.

      God Bless,


    • NCBIer profile image


      7 years ago

      Thank you. While I'm sure that nothing at this point would be an "easy" solution, it is gratifying to know that what feels right, probably is. I am also very appreciative of the practical advice you've provided on how to manage it all. I'm bookmarking this one and will link to it whenever it is appropriate.

    • schoolgirlforreal profile image


      8 years ago

      This is useful, but I can't express the overwhelmingness of "my" parents. Let me number it

      1)My parents don't want to spend $$ at all

      includes any nurse/housekeeper not covered

      2)My father was always a yeller, still is- extremely mean at times and wants to die at home.

      He is living at home in a dirty mess that keeps building up no matter how much it's cleaned

      3)I have to stay away from him alot because he's so mean

      4)we have 10 people -siblings- helping...not nearly enough in my opinion

      5)Now my Mom is also sick. They are both in beds on 1st floor.

      6)Mom just had hip surgery and is in rehab. She calls me (5xtoday) worried Dad will die before she gets home. I can't visit her everyday, I worry about her. they gave her something to calm her down.

      7)I need some tools. I'll keep searching.

      8)Surely mom and dad should let us be in charge but they don't.

      ok, that's enough


    • jeanie.stecher profile image


      8 years ago from Seattle

      Sorry to hear that. I am sure wherever your mom is right now. She is happy for you, and even thank you for staying with her and never leave her during the hardest time of her life. Smile ;-) god is good..all the time ;-0

    • profile image


      8 years ago


    • profile image


      8 years ago

      We just took in my father-in-law 2-1/2 months ago. I am not close with him, but his wife passed away with little warning, so decisions had to be made quickly! He has had several strokes and can care for most of his needs, however, he cannot make decisions for himself. My husband has been so helpful through all of this. We take it one day at a time....and as you stated, resolve to maintain a sense of humor and have open communication with my husband. These are all challenging situations, but it is a comfort to know that I am not alone!! Thanks for your comments.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Thank you for your story.

      Soon my mother in law will be coming to live with us because to her health is getting worse. Although, I knew when I married my husband that this will happen eventually, I wasn’t truly prepared. Within in the last 3 days the decision was made to bring her from Greece. By the way, I am 5 months pregnant and this is our first child. I turned to the internet to find out information on how to deal with this. There was a lot of sad stories and bitterness toward the mother in law. I was happy to read your story and how you explained that although it was hard you were still okay. Thanks for your helpful suggestions. I was planning to use them when I stay home on maternity leave basically taking care of both.

    • profile image

      joel plangman 

      8 years ago

      Living with elderly parents can be difficult and I can appreciate Marye Audet's journey. My mother and father moved in with my sister after her cancer flared up. The experience did have moments but everyone did come closer together. Thank you for sharing how it was and we need to be there for parents and our siblings who fill the roll of looking after elderly parents especially when they are seriously ill.

    • profile image

      Karen in Arizona 

      8 years ago

      Could anyone advise what to do when Mom is old and in a home, and one of three daughters want to take her home with them, and the others say no, you can't manage? Isn't Mom's happiness the most important thing? How do you settle sibling disagreements like this, since I would feel better taking Mom into my home and they would never consider it? Thanks for any advice.

    • mulberry1 profile image

      Christine Mulberry 

      8 years ago

      Sounds like quite a journey, and God bless you for learning such a valuable lesson in the process. I am going to link to your hub on one that I created about Children and Grandparents.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      My wife's mother is in great health and is a very intergral and active part of my wifes life, and as a result mine and our son's. She is also quite elderly.

      Although my B and her mother have on the surface a close relationship, my wife has made it clear that as soon as her mother becomes a burden, through illness or age, she will send her back to China, either to her sister or to a nursing home.

      This is a very pragmatic approach, and oddly, her mother is in complete agreement with this.

      Now my wife claims to have been raised in a very close family, and this is borne out of the ongoing contact she maintains with the rest of her family, but something about the pragmatism of these relationships doesn't sit well with me.

      They tend to represent relationships of convenience, which in my 'Western' world is the anti-thesis of the foundation for family. In any case, it has worked well for their whole family so far, and given that there has never been any family inheritence to fight over, the relationships have remained symbiotic and mutually beneficial.

      Of course, this is the easy part. If or when her mother ages to a point where she herself needs ongoing help, the pressures on the whole family will be compounded. Although I have some work colleagues who have easily transitioned their parent's into a nursing home facility, the emphasis on family within the Chinese culture, I expect, would make this a more difficult proposition.

      Only time will tell, and although my mother-in-law is in great shape for her age, both mentaly and physically, she does have a worriesome tremor and increasing rigidity in her body, which is looking more and more like Parkinson's disease.

      For those who know about this disease, it is progressive and insidious, and takes a terrible toll on the whole family in terms of the level of care that is required. For my mother-in-law's sake, I hope that this care, no matter how difficult, is provided by us, and not a nursing home. It just wouldn't be right.

    • nigelking profile image


      8 years ago from Planet Earth - I think!

      Hi Marye - I was so impressed with this Hub that I have plavce a direct link to it on my website

      Keep up the good writing.

    • Putz Ballard profile image

      Putz Ballard 

      8 years ago

      We have been caring for my wife's mom for over 5 years now. It has been a learning experience requiring much patience and tolerance of the one afflicted and family members. We would have like more help in the beginning but found out when a dementia patient is removed from their familiar environment it leads to confusion and a readjustment for them.

    • esllr profile image


      8 years ago from Charlotte

      Such a right on hub.Caring for the elderly takes the same patience as raising a child, maybe more. These adults are transitioning and that can be devastating for the ones that were used to their independence.

      I wanted to add that we must do background checks on caretakers of our elderly. We don't want them to be part of a silent epidemic. Always make sure that any staff or caretaker is licensed,referred, and caring. You can get a general or background check at

    • DeBorrah K. Ogans profile image

      DeBorrah K Ogans 

      8 years ago

      Marye Audet,

      Thank you for this beautiful hub. It is like being the filling in a sandwich! It is not easy making decisions for what is best for elderly parents. Each situation is unique therefore many things need to be taken into consideration. Where, are how will they be most comfortable and happy? You have given some wonderful suggestions that will be quite helpful to many others going through or considering what to do?

      No doubt you had a lot on your plate. I am sure your love, care and concern made all the difference in the world to you Mom. You will always have precious memories!


    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Sometimes we take on responsibilities we are not yet ready for, that can turn into an emotional and physical burden in our lives. A friend of mine was in a similar situation. Her family physician told her about ResponseLINK Emergency Alert System. After researching it and calling the company, she purchased it for her mother. Since she was able to leave her mother for periods out of the day, and continue her own life, while knowing that if she was needed she would be contacted immediately she felt greater peace of mind. She was able to spend time for her self, her resentment seemed to diminish.

    • Zsuzsy Bee profile image

      Zsuzsy Bee 

      10 years ago from Ontario/Canada

      Marye! you're right this is a great HUB.

      regards Zsuzsy

    • 2Honest profile image


      10 years ago from Texas

      This has helped me to know that I'm not alone as I take care of my mother-in-law. Thank you for sharing.

    • Lela Davidson profile image

      Lela Davidson 

      10 years ago from Bentonville, Arkansas

      Marye, this is a great article! Thanks.

    • Guru-C profile image

      Cory Zacharia 

      10 years ago

      Thank you for sharing this life experience. I'm sorry for the loss of your Mother... You did the right thing for her and I hope that brings you lifelong peace.


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