How to care for an elderly parent at home

Senior living comes with a lot to consider. This guide will help you prepare.

January 21, 2022

8 min read

Senior mother and daughter looking at photo album together

You may have begun to notice concerning changes in your parent during their aging process. Have they become more forgetful? Are they withdrawing from hobbies they used to enjoy and the people they love? Maybe you’re concerned about their safety in the home.

You may not feel ready for them to make the move to senior living, yet leaving your parent to manage on their own isn’t an option. So you ask yourself, “How do I take care of my aging parent?”

Here is wise advice: Slow down and take things one step at a time. Know that you are not alone in this. Focus on what you can handle. This guide can help you transform the looming obstacle of caregiving into a practical, realistic plan.

Quick guide: Caring for an elderly parent


Talk about care with your parent

Before you do anything, it’s important to sit down and talk with your parent. Position yourself as a partner, not an authority. Transitioning from their child to a caregiver role can be complicated for everyone. Be patient with yourself and your parent.

Be tactful and considerate, but clear and direct. Sometimes well-intended help can be perceived as condescending and spurs resistance. Be prepared to have multiple conversations.

Make sure to talk to siblings about your parent’s care from the beginning, so no one feels left out. The sooner you start the conversation with your parent and family, the easier it will be for all involved to make decisions about Mom’s or Dad’s well-being, especially if their needs become challenging.

Most important, know your parent’s wishes before assuming the role of caregiver. They may prefer not to have a family member look after them, so understanding their expectations up front is beneficial for everyone.

Make their home safe

A safe living environment is paramount, especially as your parent ages. Each year, more than one out of four older adults fall, but less than half report that fall to their doctor. Look for tripping hazards such as area rugs, cluttered hallways, door thresholds, cracks in the driveway, loose steps, electrical cords and ottomans.

Place easily accessible seating around the home. For example, a bench near the door to sit upon while removing shoes or a stool in the bedroom to make it easier to get dressed can be helpful.

While modifying the house for greater and safer mobility, consider installing grab bars in the tub or shower and around the toilet, and placing nonslip mats in the bathroom and kitchen. Other options that can make your parent’s day-to-day safer are assistive devices – such as a cane, walker, wheelchair or scooter – and physical and/or occupational therapy.

Technology has never been more accessible or easier to use than it is today. Consider a medical alert device with a push-button to call for emergency assistance. Smart home devices are also a great way to automate medication reminders and make phone calls, and many can connect to home security systems.

Assess medical needs

Your parent may need help keeping up with doctors’ appointments, traveling to the doctor, remembering to prepare for home health visits or navigating technology for telehealth appointments. Some of these tasks your parent can handle alone, but other duties might require assistance.

You may find it helpful to have the following things handy: a list of your parent’s medications and dosages, a copy of their insurance documents and, if applicable, copies of their veteran ID card and healthcare proxy.

Work with your parent to see what is realistic and delegate other tasks if necessary. They may be able to manage their daily medications just fine, but need reminders about appointments and transportation to doctors’ offices.

In the event your parent is recovering from a hospital stay, it’s important to consider home care services while transitioning back to life at home. These services can also help avoid a return visit to the hospital.

Address cognitive health

Forgetfulness may be a common sign of aging. Missing an appointment or making one questionable decision isn’t cause for immediate alarm, but it may be an indicator that your parent needs a little assistance.

“We all forget things from time to time. It can be a result of stress, anxiety and normal aging,” said Eleonora Tornatore-Mikesh, President and CEO of CaringKind. “These things become more of a concern if they occur frequently and impact a person’s day-to-day functioning.”

There are various ways you can help improve your parent’s cognitive health. Walking and other low-impact exercises are great options to get blood flowing to the brain. Learning a new skill or engaging in games like word puzzles and Sudoku can also help. And, don’t underestimate the importance of a good night’s rest and a balanced diet – foods that are good for the heart are good for the brain.

If your parent’s forgetfulness is posing a risk to their safety – for example, forgetting to turn off the stove or being confused about their surroundings – intervention is necessary.

“If you notice these signs, do what you can to have your parent evaluated by a neurologist who specializes in memory disorders,” Tornatore-Mikesh said. “While Alzheimer’s is the most common form of irreversible dementia, there are many other causes of dementia, some of which are reversible.”

Depending on what you learn during the evaluation, you may want to consider hiring in-home care or looking into a senior living community that offers memory care.

Learn how to help with daily tasks

When you get involved with your parent’s day-to-day routine, you will get a feel for their ability to take care of themselves independently. In the world of senior living, this is referred to as activities of daily living, which include but are not limited to:

  • Medication assistance
  • Personal grooming assistance, such as bathing and getting dressed
  • Meal reminders
  • Escorts to and from meals and events
  • Incontinence management

Have an honest conversation with your parent about their ability to do these things successfully. Some tasks may require modifications. For example, placing a shower chair in the tub can make bathing easier. Encourage your parent to keep a simple wardrobe and use dressing aids, like a shoehorn, sock aid, button hook fastener or a reach extender to help grab things. These tools can eliminate frustration and build confidence.

When assisting with daily tasks, allow your parent to do as much as possible with you by their side. Only intervene when needed or asked.

Encourage engagement and connection

Staying active and connected is vital to one’s well-being – no matter your age – and it’s especially important for older adults, who often can become isolated and lonely. In fact, research shows that adults 65 years and older spend more than 25 percent of their day watching television.

“Socialization and staying active are very important,” said Tornatore-Mikesh. “Being active and participating in social settings enables the person to use parts of the brain they would not use otherwise.”

When possible, monitor your parent’s behavior. Find an activity that you know brings them joy and engage them. If you happen to live far away, call regularly and encourage family and friends to do the same. Consider programs and centers designed specifically for older adults to keep your parent active and socially engaged during the day.

Handling money matters

Unless you have been designated as a power of attorney, decisions regarding finances are still up to your parent. They may want to maintain complete autonomy over their finances. When appropriate – and if necessary – broach the conversation tactfully and delicately.

Fortunately, you do not have to be power of attorney to partner with your parent about staying abreast of accounts, paying monthly bills and managing financial obligations.

Another important aspect of caring for your parents as they grow older is financially preparing for the cost of in-home care. Modifying the home for safety, paying for in-home assistance and purchasing appropriate assistive equipment like a stairlift adds up. Comparing these costs to those associated with a move to an assisted living community is also a key consideration.

Discuss these things with your parent, along with if they have long-term care insurance, to get an accurate idea of their financial state. Your parent may be eligible for government programs, such as Medicaid, veterans benefits and other resources to help with the cost of care.

Access additional resources available to caregivers

Caring for an aging parent – or making decisions about a parent’s care – can be overwhelming. As an aging adult’s physical and cognitive abilities change, so does the level of assistance they require. Be aware of caregiver burnout and know that you don’t have to do everything by yourself. There may be resources and avenues available when you need additional help or even a break for several days.

Start your senior care research early and initiate conversations with your parent and family. Being proactive instead of reactive is key to setting everyone up for success. Don’t wait for a mishap or incident like a fall or sudden onset of illness. As your family considers options, it’s important that everyone has a clear vision of what success looks like. The ideal solution will benefit your parent’s health and well-being while maintaining harmony and balance for the entire family.

Our Guide on How to Care for an Elderly Parent (PDF)

Illustration of three men gardening, one with a wheelbarrel of supplies, one water flowers and one planting flowers

Not sure where to start?

There’s a lot to learn when you become a caregiver, and you may be wondering where to start. Fortunately, many of the experiences you’ll encounter are common, and we've pulled together resources to help you along your journey.

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