7 Ways to Care for Yourself While Caring for Aging Parents

Sometimes you lose a parent suddenly. However, what you don’t realize until you’re older and have a parent entering the final stage of life is sometimes you lose a parent a little bit at a time.

My father is 81 and although he suffered a minor stroke this past year, he’s an old codger that still manages to get around. He was a dynamic, energetic man and yes, it is hard to watch him slow down. But he still gets around, believe me.

On the other hand, my mother is 76-years-old. We have watched shocked as her physical and mental health deteriorated at an alarmingly fast rate this past year. A year and a half ago she had hip replacement surgery and her mind never fully recovered. Before the surgery she was sometimes confused and could not keep an appointment straight, but afterwards she didn’t know who I was most the time. Her mind slowly came back, but never fully.

As her doctor told her after a memory test earlier this year when my Mom couldn’t draw a clock correctly, “you know something’s not right, right?” My heart broke for her, but I’m really proud of her that she can laugh at that now.

My Mom is a classy, dignified lady, so I don’t want to disclose too much. But I think she would readily admit that she is constantly confused about what day of the week it is or if it’s morning or evening. On top of that, she is in advanced stages of osteoarthritis and the bones of her neck are collapsing into each other so she is always bent over looking down at her feet. Simple things we take for granted, such as getting dressed and eating, are now difficult of her.

But she puts one foot in front of the other and I think she is one of the bravest people I know.

So how do we boomers keep our bliss while watching the bodies and minds of the people we love decline?

Caring for Aging Parents

Nearly 10 million adult children, ages 50 and older, are caring for aging parents. This is a fairly new phenomenon. In 1900, only one out of 25 people were over the age of 65. Life expectancy has increased 25 years during this past century. The most dramatic demographic change is the increase of people 95 years and over. This is the fastest growing change and is expected to increase by 200 percent in the next 20 years.

Although that means we boomers can expect to live longer, we have to remember with old age comes a greater the likelihood of health problems, weakness, fragility, and the need for family help. It is no longer unusual for retirees over the age of 65 to be caring for an aging parent.

With that in mind, here are a few tips to help caregivers cope with the physical and emotional demands:

  • Express your feelings to someone who will listen, empathize, and understand. This can provide a release and lessen the pain. If you are a spiritual person, prayer is invaluable.
  • Take care of yourself physically and emotionally. Get enough sleep, eat healthy, exercise. If you become exhausted, you’re more likely to get sick yourself and lose your ability to be an efficient and effective caretaker.
  • As I learned recently, watch for warning signs such as mounting frustration and out of control emotions. This may be difficult, but that means you MUST schedule time for relaxation. By doing so, you’ll be in better condition, both emotionally and physically, to take care of your loved one. Nurturing our own bodies and spirit gives us the strength and endurance to continue.
  • Instead of focusing on our own feelings all the time, don’t forget that our parents need love and reassurance – often desperately so. Like us, they need to feel valued and that their lives are worthwhile.
  • Allow your parents to make their own decisions to the extent possible. The elderly are not children, but adults with a lifetime of wisdom and experience. Often times, the less you try to control their lives, the better your relationship with them will be and the less likely they are to become angry, demanding, helpless, depressed, or withdrawn. If you must overrule a parent’s wishes, do so with kindness, open communication, and honest explanations. Your parents have lost much; allow them to keep their dignity.
  • Boomers are often juggling caregiving with other responsibilities such as demanding jobs and caring for their own families. Sacrificing our sanity for the sake of caregiving is not the wisest route. Delegate and ask family members or friends for help or consider hiring someone.
  • Don’t make hasty decisions based on emotions. Decisions about a parent’s life are not easy or simple. Take the time to carefully explore all your options and do not have preconceived ideas about what is the best solution.

If caregiving is hard, it is also a labor of love. It is a chance to connect with a parent and pay them back for all those sleepless nights you cried incessantly and inconsolably and they comforted you. As I am discovering, caring for a parent is a life-changing experience and one that is often as rewarding and inspiring as it is painful.

For more information, check out my award-winning book, I’m Your Daughter, Julie: Caring for a Parent with Dementia.


Julie A. Gorges is the author of two young adult novels, Just Call Me Goody Two Shoes and Time to Cast Away and co-author of Residential Steel Design and Construction published by McGraw Hill. In addition, hundreds of her articles and short stories have been published in national and regional magazines, and she received three journalism awards from the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association while working as a newspaper reporter. Julie currently lives in southern California with her husband, Scott, and has two grown children and three grandchildren.

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10 Responses

  1. Rosie Jeres says:

    What a heartfelt article! Thank you for sharing that part of your life. I applaud your selfless love for your aged parents. Courage is an outstanding quality that helps us through life toughest, but worthwhile moments in life. May Jehovah grant you the serenity necessary to continue showing your love for your parents!

  2. Thank you, Julie, for a wonderful article. You sound like you’re doing a great job and your parents are blessed to have you care for them.

    All God’s best,

  3. Linda Biggs says:

    Julie, this is really sound advice and I’d like to thank you for taking the time to write the post.

    I no longer have my parents as sadly I lost them while I was still in my 20’s. My in-laws however, lived to a good age; 85 and 88. Mum got dementia within a year of losing dad and caring for her during those years was such a learning curve. I’d say a lot of HOW we care comes from not only empathy but instinct. I know of many people who are quick to correct a confused person, then wonder why that person gets upset and angry. It’s placing that person in the wrong, and even a dementia sufferer has a sense of unfairness when its directed at them.

    As carers from within the family, we have no training on how to cope with looking after our elderly relatives. We just get on with it and most of us learn as we go along. Learning not just how to care for that person, but also learning things about ourselves. For example, finding that you are very efficient at at organising the meds regime, but not so good at personal care. Getting the elderly person to appointments may be a strength you have, but not so much around preparing meals. Our weaker areas are where we, ourselves, need support. You should not be afraid to ask for help, particularly from those other relatives who for reasons of their own, tend to hold back. It could be they think you can manage and don’t spare you another thought. They need to be asked for their help, to give them the chance to be as proactive as you. It just comes quicker and easier to some more than others.

    • juliegorges says:

      Linda, Thanks so much for taking the time to give me some excellent advice. What you said about correcting a confused person was right on the money! I love hearing from people who have learned through experience because, as you said, there really is a learning curve to caring for aging parents. Thank-you again for sharing such useful information.

  4. Denise says:

    Great post, Julie. Being able to assist our parents has truly been a blessing for myself and my five other siblings. Knowing we have each other for support and to share each task makes it much easier. What a beautiful thing to give back to our parents what they have given us all these years. It has also made my husband and I realize that we need to start talking to our children and our own eventual aging needs.

    • juliegorges says:

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post, Denise. I also share caring for my parents with my three other siblings. We are fortunate that we all live close by and can help each other out. As you said, it is a privilege to repay our parents for all they’ve done for us over the years. And yes, it has got me and my husband thinking about our future also.

  1. September 11, 2014

    […] I wrote a blog, Caring for Aging Parents, with some general advice if you want to check it […]

  2. March 13, 2015

    […] I wrote in a previous blog, Caring for Aging Parents, if caregiving is hard, it is also a labor of love. It is a chance to connect with a parent and pay […]

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