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How to Care For a Sick Parent

Updated on November 7, 2012

Family caregivers are a diverse population that provides love and the primary support for disabled or ailing family members. In a study called, Silent Epidemic: Perspectives of High School Dropouts, 22 percent stated they had to leave High School in order to care for a sick parent. Recently, a new sector of the population, known as the Sandwich Generation, have found themselves caring for parents, grandparents, working full time, and providing care for their own children. Although women have dominated this typical role as the family caregiver, more men are joining the Sandwich Generation. Millions of people are caring for their loved ones, and since the enactment of the National Family Caregiver Support Program, financial assistance for caregivers and their families is available.

The Basics: How to Care for a Sick Parent

Like all human beings, the importance of activities of daily care must be maintained. For ill people who cannot perform self-care, you must provide the deficits and ensure they remain healthy. A basic checklist will help ensure that you have provided or encouraged the basics on a daily basis.

Oral Hygiene: If the affected person cannot brush their teeth, or has swallowing difficulty, provide a mild or diluted mouthwash that can be spit out. Apply in the morning, after each meal and at bedtime.

Assist with Personal Hygiene: Allow your loved one to assist with their own care to their maximum potential. Hand them a face cloth, hold a mirror so they can comb their hair or provide a chair for them to sit in the shower.

Nutrition: A healthy diet with adequate calories is extremely important. People suffering from cancer may have treatments discontinued if they don't maintain a certain weight. People who are limited in mobility may develop bedsores from a deficit in protein and vitamin C. If your loved one has a loss of appetite, provide supplemental shakes and drinks recommended by your healthcare provider.

Mobility: People have to move, at least side to side, every two hours or so. If not, their circulation will be cut off and the area may breakdown and develop open wounds. If possible, have your loved one sit up in a chair as long as they can tolerate it before returning to bed. Also, the lungs expand and they have less of a chance of developing pneumonia.

Medical Equipment: Depending on their mobility status, you may have to provide a portable toilet by the bed. An Oxygen cannula must be long enough to reach the oxygen concentrator when the person is in motion. A trapeze bar on the bed may help transfers and position changes.Always lock wheelchair wheels before assisting your loved one with a transfer.

Medications and Treatments: The amount of medications and dosage times may be overwhelming during the process of treatment. Use a plastic box, daily list, alarm clock or any creative means to ensure the medication is delivered at specified times.

Limit Falls and Accidents: Provide a bell at the beside and encourage your loved one to call you if they get out of bed. Ensure the corridors are free from throw rugs and clutter. Install grab bars in the bathroom and bedroom. Assist with walking if necessary.

Listen and Report: If your loved one has new complaints of pain, fatigue, depression or any signs of a reaction to medications or treatments, notify your healthcare provider of the changes. It is also very common for sufferers to experience depression and anxiety. Discuss the possibility of providing antidepressant therapy for your loved one is you feel they are depressed or anxious.

Healthcare Providers: Patient and Caregiver Rights

Educate yourself on patient rights and exercise those rights as a patient caregiver and advocate:

  • If the hospital wants to discharge your loved one and you don't agree, you can say no until you feel more confident of their health status
  • Request help from a home care nurse or aid to help care for your loved one. Know your health insurance policy well and use all your benefits.
  • Make sure you know all the home equipment you'll need and how to use it. A medical bed is difficult to set up and you may not have the required space or strength to assemble it alone.
  • Ensure that you have a living will, or documentation as a medical surrogate. Your discussions on this difficult topic will guide you to provide your loved one's wishes--not other family members or what you would would prefer.
  • Contact your local chapter for the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging to locate the Area Agency on Aging in your city or county and find out about financial assistance you are entitled to.

The Vial of Life is an Excellent Tool for Emergencies


Keep Medications and Allergies Current


Preparation for Emergenices

If your parent or loved one is in the process of a long or complicated illness, it is important to ensure documentation of allergies, current medications and medical history are available in a moments notice. The Vial of Life was designed by medical professionals to provide important medical documentation in times of emergencies, especially if the patient cannot answer medical questions from emergency responders.

The Vial of Life Label is Placed on the Refrigerator

Medical information is kept current and placed in the Vial of Life. The red sticker is clearly visible on the outside of the door, and emergency responders, such as a 911 call, can access the vial inside and provide optimal care for the patient.

Taking Care of the Caregiver

It is common among cargivers to experience burnout and exhaustion from a busy life that is spent taking care of others. In order to provide the necessary energy and vitality needed to care for your parent, it is paramount that you take care of yourself. Seek out resources to help if you are in a long term situation and need a break and time for yourself. Check into services that can help you:

Respite Care: Trained people and companions can take care of your loved one for a short period of time while you go shopping or just attend a movie. Respite means "time away for one's self.

Adult Day Care: Trained professionals can encourage your loved one to keep busy with peers or care workers that provide you with time to care for yourself.

See Volunteers in Your Local Area: Churches, neighborhood outreach centers and other volunteer groups offer assistance for people who need assistance with family care.

Contact the Health Insurance Company: Be sure that you are using all your benefits from the insurance, and check if you are entitled to a visiting nurse or aid for any period of time.

The Compassionate and Loving Family Caregiver

Most family members that care for their loved ones feel glad to do it, or even that it is their duty. However, you must be aware of depression and exhaustion in your very busy life. Always take care of yourself, and never feel you don't deserve a break. It is important to stay healthy to help others, and it takes a community to care for any member of our society.


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    • eHealer profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Las Vegas

      Hey Glimmer, how's my hubber buddy? Thanks for stopping by. Retirement homes are the best of all worlds, privacy, independence, interaction with peers, and no yard work! Here's wishing a long life you your whole family!

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

      Claudia Mitchell 

      8 years ago

      Useful and voted up eHealer. While my parents live in a retirement community, they do not need assistance. At some point my father probably will, but hopefully not for a long time. This is a good check list and helpful links.

    • eHealer profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Las Vegas

      Wow, you took care of both your parents, plus you had a daughter to take care of. Amazing, you are a very special person. Thanks for sharing~

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 

      8 years ago from North Central Florida

      Caring for parents can be overwhelming. I experienced this with both of my parents. It is hard when the child becomes the parent. I learned to do all of these things you mentioned. My Mother was able to live in her home until two years before her death at 87. She lived with my daughter and me for one year until she became unable to be left alone during the day while I was at work. She needed help in most of the areas you have covered. And she did not always welcome assistance even gently given. That last vestige of independence slipping away was difficult for her and understandably so. But you know, I am so glad that I had the opportunity to spend that time with her. She ended up in a nursing home which I have written about here on hubpages. I was a constant fixture there but that is another story for another day.

      So glad you shared this information so others will have a kind of road map to follow as they care for a parent or grandparent. ps

    • eHealer profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Las Vegas

      Hello LoveDoctor, I can understand how difficult this situation is for you. People have all kinds of reasons for resisting help and medication. It sounds like "denial" may be a problem, or that feeling helpless is worse than accepting assistance from someone. In nursing we "encourage people to do what is best for them." Perhaps you could tell them that the family would miss them if something happened to them, and it is their responsibility to allow people to help with her shower and must take the medications to remain well. Tell them that it is important for them to contribute to the family by doing what is necessary to stay well. It is very difficult to deal with a person who refuses treatment and care, and although it is their right, they may be experiencing a severe depression due not feeling "useful" to their family. Sorry I can't give you more help, all you can do is encourage and hope for the best. Thanks LoveDoctor

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      This is very helpful. How do you help someone who is so stubborn and so fixed in doing things her way? One of the biggest challenge is trying to persuade this family member to take her oral medications. This person does not want any type of assistance from an aide when it comes to showering and personal hygiene. She says she can do it on her own and she can't. The person is pretty much in denial at this point. I am not a medical expert, but it does look seem like there is some type of emotional imbalance. What do you advise? Thank you for your support. Your hubs are awesome!

    • eHealer profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Las Vegas

      Hello Crystal, I am so sorry your mom isn't doing well, she is so lucky to have you as a daughter. It is not easy to take care of a parent, it takes patience, time and courage. I am so glad you found it helpful. Thanks for your supportive comments.

    • Crystal Tatum profile image

      Crystal Tatum 

      8 years ago from Georgia

      This is a good overview of the basics of care-giving, a topic that is becoming more and more important to me as my mother is aging and her health is declining. Thanks for this.

    • eHealer profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Las Vegas

      Hello JPMC, that is wonderful that you took care of your grandma, and yes, it is a lot of work. The care is specialized and you should be able to get help. Thanks for your comments.

    • jpcmc profile image

      JP Carlos 

      8 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines

      I got the chance to care for my grandmother and it was difficult. The older they get the more specialized the care should be.

    • eHealer profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Las Vegas

      Thank you Epigramman, for all you do; lift our spirits, make us laugh, and inspire us with your gifted prose. Goo Bless you for taking care of your mum. No other act of kindness and compassion can truly express a more loving tribute to a parent than a child taking care of them. Thank you for all your inspiration and your kind words.

    • epigramman profile image


      8 years ago

      After I leave this comment space I will promote your introduction page here once again at Hubpages Facebook group so I can hopefully get the word around for you.

      This particular hub subject and topic has a particular soft spot for me as I looked after my dear mum during the last 10 years of her life after 'dad' died - and I am proud of what I did for her - she was my best friend and I have no regrets of sacrificing my time to be with her and look after her. I suppose this moment(s) comes in everyone's life at one time or another - and this is my story.

      Thank you Miss D for what you do - and do so well.

      sending you warm wishes from lake erie ontario canada 2:49pm with nice cuppa tea and the great Paul Desmond on sax.

    • epigramman profile image


      8 years ago

      My dear friend Deborah and esteemed colleague that you are: first of all - thank you for supporting my writing - it means the world to me especially coming from someone as special as you - and true to your hub name - you are 'healing' me in so many different ways.


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