Caregiver 101: Caring for Aging Parents

Understand the fundamentals of being a caregiver: what is expected and what you should know when caring for aging parents.

Senior Mother Walking With Her Adult Daughter

Caring for an aging parent can be heart-breaking and overwhelming. It’s a role reversal and something we haven’t been trained to do, but knowing what to expect and where to find help can make it easier. 

What Are Caregiver Responsibilities? 

Caregivers provide assistance to a loved one who needs help with regular or daily activities. A caregiver may be responsible for:

1) Activities of Daily Living

These tasks cover all the areas of care necessary to get ready for a day, such as:

  • Eating
  • Bathing
  • Getting dressed

2) Tasks Required for Daily Life

There are many responsibilities associated with regular daily life that can become difficult for a senior parent. 

  • Grocery shopping
  • Housecleaning
  • Laundry
  • Taking medications
  • Paying bills
  • Pet care

3) Coordinating Care

A family caregiver may also be responsible for organizing outside care, such as:

  • Medical appointments
  • Picking up prescriptions
  • Physical therapy
  • Transportation

4) Managing Financial and Legal Matters

Alongside physical care, there is often a need for managing financial and legal matters, including:

How To Be A Good Caregiver?

The list of responsibilities can seem daunting, but often these responsibilities grow slowly. It might start with something little like picking up groceries when a parent is sick. As you take on more daily tasks, you become more comfortable with the tasks outside of your current routine.

Four Tips for Caregiving

The role of a caregiver is to meet the needs of your parent or loved one to the best of your ability. You may not do it perfectly, but the fact that you care means you are on the right path.

1. Start Where You Are

Focus on the present situation to figure out the next logical step. What is it that your parent or loved one needs help with right now?   

This is a valuable conversation to have with your parent and other family members or friends that are willing to help. Ask your parent what they feel they would appreciate help with, then start there. You and your parent might have different ideas on what help is needed. By starting with what your parent wants, it paves the way for other types of help in the future. 

2. Educate Yourself

Start gathering information from reliable sources. Together with your parent, talk to their family doctor about current diseases, medications, and treatment plans. Look into how to safely assist your parent with bathing, dressing and walking.

It may be helpful to connect with community resources and healthcare professionals that can provide you with details on how to best assist your parent.

3. Get Support

Caregiving tends to be a long journey. Don’t do it alone. The Family Caregiver Alliance reports that 50% of family caregivers are receiving no outside help. This can contribute to increases in depression and a decline in your own health.

Reach out to family, friends, health professionals, organizations, and peer support groups. These organizations may be a good place to start:

Consider connecting with other family caregivers that are in your area. It may be possible to share tasks with other friends. If you are going to the grocery store for your parent, could you also pick up groceries for a friend’s parent? Perhaps that friend could pick up your parent on their way to a physiotherapist appointment?

4. Take Breaks

Don’t forget to take care of yourself. Seeking support and maintaining your own health are key to managing your role as a caregiver, so it’s not selfish to need time to yourself. This can take the form of a couple hours away or it could be scheduling an entire weekend to be on your own. These breaks allow you time to focus on your needs and to regroup and plan for the future.

While longer respite breaks are important, you will also benefit from short daily breaks. Give yourself 5 or 10 minutes each day to breathe deeply and do something you enjoy.

Although small, these practices can help you to release some of the daily tension you carry and give you room to be able to carry on with the challenging, valuable work you are doing for those you love.

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