Prepare everyone emotionally well in advance

Caring for an aging family member can be enormously stressful, both for you and for the person you're caring for. Most people caring for aging parents are also managing careers and raising a family. Your own children may be just entering or just leaving high school. It can be a time of enormous change and uncertainty for everyone.

Be sure you have the support and understanding of the people around you. Talk about it with your spouse or partner so they can be aware of what kinds of demands may be placed on you and the family in the coming months and years. Talk to your siblings as well. Be sure you are all aware of the choices you may have to make and ensure everyone is clear on how those decisions will be made and who will be taking on certain responsibilities. Even siblings who are far away may have strong feelings about certain things. Try to make sure everyone understands their expectations of themselves and their expectations of others. For example:

  • Do your parents want or expect a lot of involvement from their children?
  • Do you want your siblings to be involved in the decision making from the beginning or to leave most things to you?
  • Does a sibling expect to be kept informed on a regular basis?
  • Do you expect financial support from the parent or siblings?
  • Do you expect siblings to take over from time to time to give you a break, and do you expect your parent or parents to understand that?

Remember, you want to preserve their dignity as much as possible. The best way to accomplish this is to start talking with everyone involved early, before big decisions need to be made. Throughout this process you'll need to understand your parents' feelings and consider how they want to be cared for. There are many things you'll need to find out about. Some are obvious and some you may not have thought of before. Here are some of the preferences you will want to know about:

  • How do they feel about having a housekeeper coming into the home on a regular basis?
  • Will they ask you for help, or do they feel uncomfortable asking?
  • Do they need help with groceries? Do they need help cooking meals? Would they consider a meal plan such as Meals on Wheels?
  • Would they want you to visit daily? Or weekly? What about calling daily?
  • How do they feel about you checking that bills are being paid?
  • If at some point they are no longer able to live at home, what kind of living arrangements would they prefer? Living with you? In a seniors' residence? In a nursing home? This will also give you an indication of how much independence they want to preserve and for how long.

Start discussing long-term care plans and preferences with parents and siblings as early as possible, preferably when the parent is still in good health and enjoying an independent lifestyle. There may be some reluctance on all sides to talk about it, so starting off with only short, casual conversations and asking about certain preferences that are easy to discuss may be a good way to start. Broach the subject gently; it's a conversation, not an interrogation. Keeping the lines of communication open and building trust is important. The more you talk with them, the more they will trust that you are looking out for them and doing your best.

All material copyright MediResource Inc. 1996 – 2024. Terms and conditions of use. The contents herein are for informational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Source:

How do you know when to step in?

Your involvement in your parents' care may start very suddenly with an illness or an accident. Chances are, it will be clear at that time what you need to do. But if things progress more gradually, it can be difficult to know when you should step in and how much you should do. This can be made even more difficult if your parent or parents insist they can "handle it." How do you know when to step in?

When you're trying to decide how involved you should be, take your cues from your parents but try to be aware of details and patterns they may be missing. If you notice dangerous, possibly life-threatening behaviours, it may be time to insist a little more strongly. Some of the more important things to look out for include:

  • difficulty walking or climbing stairs
  • poor personal hygiene, difficulty shaving or showering, or soiled clothing
  • changes in eating habits
  • forgetfulness or confusion about familiar things
  • forgetting medications or taking them too frequently
  • persistent irritability or sudden mood changes
  • signs of depression
  • unpaid bills

If you're starting to be concerned but aren't certain, talk to your parents' doctor or pharmacist. Ask about their medical conditions and get to know what signs indicate they are worsening. Ask about the medications they're taking and how you can tell if they've missed some or are taking them too much. It's possible some of the behaviors you're noticing are a reaction to a medication and a simple adjustment may be necessary. Also, because the doctor and pharmacist have much more experience helping seniors, their insights could be valuable.

How far do you go? How involved do you get? How much do you insist? The answers to these questions are very personal and can be very difficult. It's important to remember that you're dealing with an adult, however physically and emotionally frail and dependent they may seem. They have made many important decisions in the past and they are used to independence and autonomy. It may be difficult for your parents to accept your involvement in areas of their life which, in the past, were totally private. Be patient and understanding.

All material copyright MediResource Inc. 1996 – 2024. Terms and conditions of use. The contents herein are for informational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Source:

Early steps in caring for your parent

So far, things have been going pretty smoothly with your parent and you haven't had too many concerns. But you know the time is coming when you'll need to be involved in a more direct way. Just as it's important to talk with siblings and your own family members about the changes ahead, there are other people you may want to talk to as well. You may find the support of these people very helpful for ongoing care and in times of crisis.

  • Let your employer know about the possible changes in your personal circumstances. Their understanding will help relieve the stress if you have to take time off work for doctor's appointments or to deal with other matters.
  • Make an appointment with your parents' doctor and let them know about your concerns. Find out what you need to do should you need information from them about your parents' health condition. Listen to their advice on what symptoms to look for that may indicate worsening of their health conditions.
  • Visit your parents' pharmacist and make sure they know who you are in case you have any questions about the medications your parents may be taking and possible side effects to watch out for.
  • Know who your parents' friends and neighbours are, and make sure they know you.

You've spoken with everyone you can think of to ensure everyone involved with the care of your parent is well informed. That's an excellent beginning. Now you need to get down to the practical business of caring for another person. Take the time to think, plan, and gather information. It's time well spent and will save you aggravation and worry in the future. Here are some things to get you started:

  • Start gathering information so you have it all easily accessible when you need it. This includes:
    • a list of all medical conditions and medications
    • their provincial health card number(s)
    • names, phone numbers, and addresses of doctors, specialists, dentists, and pharmacists
    • names and phone numbers of their friends, neighbours, and people you should call in case of an emergency
    • if they're renting accommodation or living in a condo, the names and phone numbers for the landlord, condominium corporation, and maintenance staff
    • account numbers and contact numbers for all credit cards, bank accounts, financial advisors, insurance policies, and investments
    • name and phone number of their lawyer
    • copy of their will, power of attorney for property, power of attorney for personal care, living will
  • Make sure you and others have a key to the house.
  • Keep good notes of any appointments, symptoms you observe, phone calls, changes in health conditions, or moodiness.
  • Follow up with healthcare professionals.
  • Find out about community resources.
  • Be honest about your own needs.

Two of the most important documents to have prepared well in advance are the powers of attorney for financial and health care decisions. Without these two documents, you may find yourself without the authority to make important decisions at a critical time. You and your parents should carefully consider who will be named on these documents. Be sure you, your parents, and your siblings understand what authority and responsibility these documents cover.

All material copyright MediResource Inc. 1996 – 2024. Terms and conditions of use. The contents herein are for informational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Source:

Taking care of yourself

As you embark on the journey of caring for your parents, your life may become very stressful. In order to ensure you are able to continue to fulfill your obligations as parent, spouse, and employee, you will need to take care of yourself. Maintaining your health and good humour will require effort, but it's an important part of being able to care for others effectively. You'll need a firm belief that you deserve to spend some time on yourself, and you'll have to defend that time against the many other demands you'll feel. Here are a number of small things you can do to start you off on the right foot:

  • Get enough sleep. You may not have the time to do everything you'd like, but getting enough sleep helps you stay calm to do the important things with good humour.
  • Eat right. That means a lot more vegetables, fruit, and water, and less salt, unhealthy fat, refined sugars, and highly processed foods. Be sure you get the calories you need in their most nutritious form and you can feel good about treating yourself to an indulgence once in a while.
  • Keep the lines of communication open with your spouse or partner. As busy as you may be, don't forget they are there for moral support and to help out when you need it.
  • Take some time off. Spend some time thinking about what your needs are and be up front with them. Don't feel guilty about devoting some time to hobbies and your own friends. Be firm, not resentful.
  • Most importantly, take a deep breath and appreciate the small pleasures.

Caring for a parent can be very stressful, but there's much you can do to help you prepare yourself for the road ahead. A big part of that preparation is talking to your parent, siblings, your spouse or partner, and your friends, but it's also a big part of getting the moral support you need.

Although the phrase "parenting your parents" is a bit of a misnomer – caring for someone isn't necessarily parenting them – many of the same emotional tools are required. Patience, understanding, firmness, empathy, and the willingness to look out for someone else are all skills you'll put to good use. Use them on yourself as well – give yourself a break.

All material copyright MediResource Inc. 1996 – 2024. Terms and conditions of use. The contents herein are for informational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Source: