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Navigating the Journey: 8 Steps to Care for Aging Parents

Taking care of your parents can be one of the most challenging roles. In this guide, we offer insight into eight steps for easier and more effective elder care.

Ready to overcome your obstacles?



In 2020, roughly 41.8 million US adults provided unpaid care to an adult over the age of 50

That's nearly 17% of the US adult population!

If you're a newcomer to caring for elderly parents, the role can be overwhelming and come with a lot of emotional baggage.
You may experience guilt, anger, or sadness due to your personal bond with your parents. Additionally, adjusting to the role reversal can take time, and cultural expectations may create internal pressure. Furthermore, taking over legal and financial responsibilities can be stressful.

This can leave you feeling shell-shocked and unsure of what to do. However, our guide has outlined steps to help you overcome the mental, emotional, and physical pressures you may face. So rest assured, you can navigate this new role successfully.

A younger woman holding an older woman smiling at each other

1. Assess Their Needs

When taking on the responsibility of caring for elderly parents, it is vital to assess their needs first. This first step sets up your care plan. It helps you know your role, what resources you need, and potential challenges you might encounter. Doing so gives you a clear picture of what to expect and be better equipped.

20 Questions to Ask

Identifying the needs of humans can be overwhelming as they require a lot to stay functional. We have compiled a list of essential questions to simplify the process. Answering these questions ensures you meet all needs.

Physical Health

  • How is their overall health?
  • Do they have any conditions that require special treatment?
  • Are they experiencing any pain or discomfort?
  • Have they had any recent changes in their health?
  • Are they taking any medications?
  • Do they have any allergies?

Mental Health

  • How are they feeling emotionally?
  • Are they feeling stressed, anxious, or depressed?
  • Have they had any changes in their mood or behavior?
  • Are they having any trouble sleeping?
  • Are they having any trouble concentrating?

Daily Living

  • Are they able to get around the house safely?
  • Are they able to do their own cooking and cleaning?
  • Are they able to bathe and dress themselves?
  • Are they able to use the toilet without help?
  • Are they able to manage their finances?

Social needs

  • Are they still able to socialize with friends and family?
  • Are they still able to participate in activities that they enjoy?
  • Are they feeling isolated or lonely?
  • Are they having any trouble communicating with others?

Four Ways to Assess Their Needs

Now that you are aware of the questions you need to ask, it's time to find the answers. There are various ways to identify your parent's needs, including:

  • Sit down with your parent and ask them about their needs. This is the most straightforward approach and one we recommend you always do first. It will open the door up for clear communication and make them feel involved.
  • Observe your parent and note how they function in their daily life. Use this approach to understand better things your parent may have missed or feel too uncomfortable to discuss. Observe your parent's daily routine and identify any tasks they may struggle with, such as bathing, dressing, or eating.
  • Look into their medical history. It's important to consider your parents' medical history when planning their care. Reach out to their doctors or look at any medical documents they have. If they have any preexisting conditions, make sure to incorporate activities into their care plan that address their specific needs.
  • Involve other caregivers, friends, and family members. It's always beneficial to seek input from individuals who are familiar with your parent. They may offer insights into behaviors that your parent doesn't exhibit around you or that you might miss.

When evaluating their requirements, it is important to be patient, empathetic, and compassionate. Each situation is unique, and you may encounter opposition or even hostility. Your parent may experience shame or guilt due to depending on you for assistance.

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2. Identify Your Role & Responsibilities (Set Boundaries)

Caretaking for elderly parents puts you at greater risk of caregiver burnout. Because they're your parent, you may feel the need to do everything in your power to take care of them. While understandable, it's not realistic. You must identify what you can and can't do to ensure balance.

"Creating a care plan for Mom was a process of trial and error. Initially, I thought I could handle all the caregiving myself, but eventually, I realized the importance of getting help. Getting the right professional help is important for their care plan. It's important to find services that fit their unique needs."

Margie Yohn
Caregiver for Her Mome & Senior Real Estate Specialist

Important Questions to Ask Yourself

Once you know your parents' needs, it's then time to create your role and responsibilities. Carefully consider your parent's needs, what you can help with, and the constraints you might face. Consider asking yourself these questions:

  • How much time do I have to care for my parent? Is my current schedule flexible for added responsibilities?
  • Am I physically able to care for my parent? If they need to be lifted, am I able to do so?
  • Am I financially able to assist in caring for my parent? If so, how much can I contribute?
  • Can I make any changes to their home myself? If not, do they need to be moved, or can I hire someone to make modifications?
  • Can I visit them frequently to care for them? If not, can I relocate or even have them live with me?
  • What does my support system look like? Are there resources and other family members, support groups, or organizations who can help?
  • Am I willing to learn new skills to take on this role? Do my parents have any special needs that require me to take a course?
  • Am I able to handle this emotionally? Does my relationship with my parent allow me to be around them for extended periods? Can I care for them without creating a lot of negative emotions on either side?

To determine your responsibilities, list the necessary tasks and mark the ones you can manage. This will help you understand what you can do and what you should assign to others.

"Create a table to organize yourself. Identify the categories of issues the parent has, determine the needs, what additional help is needed, and assign that to someone to arrange. This will allow there to be clear communication and accountability."

Wafa Nuradin
RN MPH, Chief Operating Officer of Modern Caregiving Solutions

How to Set Boundaries

Once you've created your role, it's time to communicate this with your parent. This is where boundary setting comes into play.

Remember, there must be give and take in family caregiving. It's okay if you can't meet certain needs. Just remember to communicate this with them and set your boundaries early on. This will prevent you from overworking yourself.

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3. Look into Finances

Did you know that 18% of caregivers report having financial struggles?

Gaining a thorough understanding of your parent's financial status is vital. Have a realistic conversation with your parent regarding their situation.

After aligning your responsibilities, you'll need to calculate care costs. This might include hiring a home care agency, full-time assisted living, a cleaning company, home modifications, food, or caregiving supplies.

Start writing down the monthly cost of each need to ensure you have a solid idea of the total monthly cost.

Consulting with a financial planner could be beneficial if you feel like you have too much on your plate. They can assist in creating a financial plan to ensure that they cover all expenses.

Programs to Look into

Another crucial area to consider is any programs that can help pay for caregiving expenses. Consider applying for these programs:

  • Medicaid: This government program provides health insurance to low-income persons and families. Certain states also offer long-term care services to help offset the costs of caring for older parents.
  • Medicare: Another government program, Medicare offers health insurance for those 65 years of age and older and those with specific disabilities. This program can help offset medical expenses.
  • Veterans Affairs: If you or your parent served in the military, the VA may offer financial assistance for long-term care.
  • Caregiver Support Program: This program gives money to people who are looking after a sick or disabled family member.
  • National Family Caregiver Support Program (NFCSP): The NFCSP is a federal program that provides grants to states to support caregiver services. These services can include respite care, counseling, and training.
  • Aging and Disability Resource Centers (ADRCs): ADRCs are local agencies that provide information and assistance to older adults and their caregivers. ADRCs can help you find financial assistance programs available in your area.

The financial side of caregiving can be the most daunting, especially if you're tight on money. However, there are many resources to make your situation easier. Remember to do your research, apply as soon as possible, be patient, and ask for help from others.

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4. Gather Your Needed Resources

One of the best traits any caregiver can have is resourcefulness. To go at caring for your parent alone is a mistake not worth exploring. For this reason, it's vital to gather the necessary resources and support to make your role (and life) easier.

Here are some popular resources you might consider utilizing:

  • Your friends and family
  • Your parent's friends
  • Your parent's spouse
  • Caregiver support groups
  • Respite care for temporary relief
  • Legal assistance for things like estate planning, power of attorney, and guardianship
  • Financial assistance Online resources such as caregiver websites, blogs, and publications
  • Therapists for emotional support and guidance

"Support groups can be a valuable resource for caregivers struggling with sadness, worry, anger, anticipatory grief, guilt, and frustration. Belonging to a community that supports and empathizes with caregivers can prevent burnout. It can provide much-needed assistance to those going through challenging times."

Kristine Oller
Caregiver & Founder of YouFirstCaregivers.com

More often than not, caregiving takes a village. The right resources not only meet your parent's needs but also provide you with the necessary support and life balance.

"If your parent is experiencing severe cognitive decline, it may not be wise to leave them home unattended. In this case, you may need to consider round-the-clock care and assistance from a homecare professional. It's important to keep your parents safe by managing their prescription doses and tracking their location when you're not home."

Nancy Mitchell
RN & Contributor to Assisted Living Center

A sign that reads, take care of yourself

5. Create and Implement Your Self-Care Plan

Senior care can be one of the most time, emotionally, and physically demanding roles one can be in. To have long-term success, it's vital you create and practice a self-care plan. Self-care looks different from person to person but always involves things that physically, mentally, and emotionally benefit you.

Your plan can include things like going for a daily walk, reading a book, meditating, or working out. For a thorough walk-through on self-care, we recommend reading our guide on How to Practice Self-Care for Caregivers.

An elderly woman sitting on a bath mat using a hand-held shower spray

6. Make their Home Safe with Safety Modifications

Are you aware that a quarter of adults aged 65+ experience a fall every year?

If you end up taking care of your elderly parents at home, making the proper home safety modifications is vital. Perform a run-through of the home and look for things that may pose a safety threat. A few common hazards include:

  • Clutter
  • Rugs
  • Poor lighting
  • Tight spaces
  • And stairs

To help your elderly parents stay in their homes, home safety cannot go unattended. Keep their physical and mental condition in mind. If they're a fall risk, install items such as grab bars and safety rails. If they're not mobile, provide them with a mobility aid to get around.

Check out our Caregiver's Guide to In-Home Safety for tips on keeping your loved ones safe at home. The guide covers 79 tips for each room in the house, presented in a step-by-step format.

A young man showing a senior man documents

7. Gather Important Documents

In an emergency, the last thing you want to do is search for important documents. Be sure to gather important documents sooner rather than later. This will ensure you are well-equipped to make medical or financial decisions for them.

Consider gathering these documents:

  • Legal documents: Healthcare power of attorney (POA), Living will (or advanced directive), HIPAA authorization, Durable power of attorney for finances, Will, Marriage certificate, Divorce decree, Birth certificates of children, Death certificates of spouse or parents
  • Financial documents: Social Security card, Medicare card, Medicaid card, Insurance policies, Retirement accounts, Bank statements, Investment statements, Tax returns

Keep these documents organized and in a safe place, such as a fireproof safe or locked file cabinet. Ensure another person knows their location in case you can't get to them. Creating a digital copy of each document as a backup is also worthwhile.

"For people caring for elderly adults, they need to ensure they have the paperwork to provide care. For example, a healthcare proxy or power of attorney lets them talk to their loved one's medical team. A power of attorney for finances lets them take over things like paying mortgages, taxes, bills, etc.

Most importantly, they need to gather and organize information so everyone knows where to turn in an emergency. It's now easy and affordable to create a will without an attorney so they don't leave a mess for their family."

Julie M. Fry
COO of Gentreo

A home health care aid with paper looking at a senior woman

8. Create and Implement a Caregiving Plan

Depending on your parent's needs, you should consider creating a series of plans. These include:

  • A care plan: This plan should outline the specific care your parent needs, including their medical, daily living, and emotional needs. It should also include a schedule for their care and a list of those responsible for each task.
  • A legal plan: This plan should outline your parent's wishes for their healthcare, finances, and end-of-life care. Make sure to include a list of all legal documents, including a power of attorney, a living will, and a last will and testament.
  • A communication plan: This plan should outline how you will communicate with your parent, their doctors, and other healthcare providers. It should also include a list of emergency contacts.
  • A respite plan: This plan should outline how you will take breaks from caregiving. This could include hiring a home health aide, taking your parent to a daycare center, or having them stay with another family member.

Having multiple plans in place might feel like a lot. But they can provide a sense of organization and comfort that everything is handled.

"I also recommend that the family caregiver prepare for an unexpected trip to the ER. Have a packed bag with things you and your loved one will need. This might be an updated list of medications, allergies, health insurance, medical history, names of doctors including specialists, and pharmacy information."

Diane Carbo
RN & Founder Caregiver Relief

What Steps are You Taking for Your Parents?

Caring for your elderly parent can be emotionally and physically exhausting. It's a journey that takes much patience, understanding, and empathy. And the first few weeks and even months can require major adjustments. But by utilizing the steps we've highlighted in this article, it can be much more manageable over time.

About the Author

Head shot for Brandon Landgraf

Brandon Landgraf is the Digital Marketing Manager for Carex Health Brands. He finds passion and fulfillment in creating content that enhances, improves, and enlivens others' quality of life. All of his written work is formulated to not only offer essential advice and tips but back it with proven studies and experts. His mission is to connect with readers and provide steps to make their lives better.

You can connect with him on LinkedIn here.

About Carex Health Brands

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Carex is your one-stop shop for home medical equipment and for products that assist caregivers with providing the best possible support and care for their loved ones. Carex Health Brands has been the branded leader in in-home, self-care medical products for over 35 years. Our goal is to improve the lives of our customers by bring them quality products that bring dignity back to their lives. With our three nationally distributed brands, Carex Health Brands serves national, regional and independent food, drug and mass retailers along with wholesalers, distributors and medical dealers.

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