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Caring for an Elderly Mother or Father: A Compassionate Guide to Helping Your Parent

Updated on August 9, 2015
Chris Telden profile image

Chris Telden's B.A. degree in sociology focused on effective quantitative and qualitative methods of cultural analysis.

If your elderly mother or father is no longer able to care for herself or himself, you'll find yourself facing numerous challenges. You must decide what the best caregiving arrangement is for your mom or dad, for yourself, and for your family.

If you are considering doing the caregiving yourself, know that it is not without a cost. A December 2009 study of Canadian caregivers in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry found that baby boomer caregivers taking care of dementia patients on a live-in basis suffered significantly from mental and physical complaints, including fatigue, depression and stress. Stress can have an effect on your health and thus on your ability to care for your family's elders. The stress of adjusting your life may be as great as the adjustment your parent must make as he or she learns how to adapt to a loss of independence.

Here is a guide to help you through this decision-making process. There are tips for how to give good practical care to aging parents while never losing your sense of compassion. Resources are also included if you need to hire a caregiver, get medical and financial assistance, and more.

Decide What Kind of Care Best Suits Your Situation

Figure out exactly what help your parent needs. Even though your mom or dad's mobility or mental capacity may be diminished, they may still be able to do a lot for themselves. Follow the advice of the AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) and get your parent's permission to speak with their doctor about their health condition as it relates to:

  • their physical support
  • necessary medical equipment
  • their prescription and over-the-counter medications
  • their dietary needs

Gather essential documents. Keep on hand:

  • all health care providers' names and phone numbers
  • complete list of medications and dosages, with dates that prescriptions expire
  • list of friends and family's names and numbers
  • official identification cards and birth certificates
  • legal documents such as power of attorney, a living will, etc.

Realistically assess whether or not you and your family can take care of your parent yourself. Some questions to ask yourself include:

  • Are you able to physically assist your mother or father in the way he or she needs assistance, such as with bathing, going to the bathroom, eating, etc.?
  • Do you have the time to personally care for your parent?
  • Is your parent willing for you to care for him or her?
  • Are you willing to care for your parent?
  • Can you or your parent afford to hire a caregiver?
  • If you do not live near your parent, are you able to provide long distance help (financial or by making arrangements) for your aging parent?

The answers to these questions will determine whether the safest and best option is for your parent:

  • to live with you while you take care of him or her
  • to live with you simultaneous with hiring a caregiver
  • to live alone with a hired caregiver
  • to move into assisted living
  • to make some other arrangement.

Don't answer the questions hastily. These are complex and difficult issues to face and must be dealt with honestly by everyone involved--including your elderly mother or father.

Tips for Showing Compassion in Your Caregiving

  • Encourage your mother or father to be as independent as possible, for as long as possible.
  • Be supportive of their efforts to maintain parts of their former social life and work. Don't assume that because they're no longer 100 percent independent, they should now become a complete invalid.
  • Use positive language when you speak with your parent, rather than doubtful, negative, and pessimistic language. A positive outlook is more likely to keep your parent feeling positive.
  • Enjoy the time you're spending with your parent. Socialize together and go out as much as possible.
  • Beware of the inevitable emotional conflict. It can be tempting to fight with your elderly mom or dad about the same old things. Your parent is likely to be even more crotchety, critical, and demanding than he or she ever was. Yet now is the time to acquire patience, ease up and put past issues aside.
  • If your mother or father is not very assertive or demanding, they may neglect to tell you when they need something. Remember to check in regularly to make sure their needs are being met.
  • Don't use physical force on your elderly parent. If you get so frustrated you're afraid you'll do physical harm, seek help immediately.
  • It may help if you clarify roles. Your parent may see you now as something of a servant in your role of caregiver. You may see yourself as the one in charge. This disparity in role definitions can cause conflict. As much as possible. make sure you and your parent both share the same idea of your respective roles.
  • Stay healthy, yourself. Some people naturally enjoy taking care of others but find themselves neglecting their own needs. Ultimately, keeping your health optimal is critical to helping a sick, disabled, or impaired-functionality parent.

Get Help When You Need It

The physical, emotional, and financial stress of taking care of your elderly parents can be severe.  Get help when you can no longer do it on your own.

When your mother or father deteriorates, your living arrangements change, the financial burden gets too great, or other circumstances prevent your giving good and effective care, seek assistance.

Call the doctor (or 911 if you need emergency assistance) for help when your parent is showing physical changes. The Department of State cautions you to watch for danger signals such as disorientation, weight loss and strange behavior.

See the links for Elder Care Resources in this article for places you can go for geriatric care and financial assistance.


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    • CareGiverPartners profile image

      CareGiverPartners 8 years ago from National

      It can be such a paradigm shift when we realize that those who cared for us now need our attention and supervision. Your tips and steps here are a great way to take some of the confusion out of becoming a loved one's caregiver.

      Thank you, Chris.