Tips and resources for first-time caregivers

Use this guide to help create a practical, thoughtful approach to caring for your parent.

April 01, 2022

8 min read

Senior woman and her adult daughter gardening on a nice summer day

As families age, roles reverse, and adult children often find themselves playing the part of caregiver for a senior parent. This may happen slowly in phases or all at once due to an accident or sudden onset of disease. No matter the circumstances, becoming your parent’s caregiver is often a difficult position to navigate for all involved.

It is wise to anticipate the needs your loved one may have as they age, when possible. This may begin with providing transportation to and from errands or doctor’s appointments and evolve into helping with meals and housekeeping or handling finances. Below, you’ll find advice for first-time caregivers and tips for caring for aged parents at home.

Have an earnest conversation

Planning care for an aging parent can be uncomfortable to talk about, but it is a necessary conversation. The sooner you begin discussing what the future could look like, the better it will be. If you wait until decisions are imminent, stress and urgency can make it more difficult to evaluate options, and those options may be more limited.

  • Broach the topic gently – No one likes to have a difficult discussion they aren’t prepared for; it can put people on the defensive. Look for a natural opening to bring up the subject with your parent. For example, if your parent mentions joint pain, you could ask if that’s been impacting their ability to make it up and down stairs or get around the house on their own.
  • Be persistent, but patient – Understandably, older adults are often hesitant to leave the home they’ve made for themselves. They may have been there for decades, forging cherished memories of raising children, entertaining friends and family or investing time and resources into the property itself. It will likely take several conversations to help your parent accept that they need assistance. Forcing the issue can create a combative situation that only makes a difficult situation more challenging.
  • Don’t be afraid to talk about money – Figuring out finances is an unavoidable topic when making arrangements for an aging parent. You’ll need to take stock of any savings or assets they may have, as well as determine how much you and other family members are able to contribute. The earlier you start this process, the more time there will be to save.
  • Get others’ opinions – Remember, your assessment of the situation isn’t the only point of view. It’s crucial to talk to your siblings and have them involved with these same conversations with your parent. Consider asking your parent’s doctors, other family members and trusted friends what they think is best.
  • Listen to your loved one – Your parent deserves to have their opinion heard, too. The opportunity to express one’s preferences and concerns can be empowering. Let your parent be an active participant in as many decisions as possible.

Know what to expect

Knowledge is power. Gather as much information as you can so that you can make informed decisions and be prepared for the future.

  • Research the disease or disability – If your parent has received a diagnosis, knowing how the disease or disability may progress can help you anticipate what additional care or resources may be necessary down the line. That way, you can make decisions now that could potentially make things easier later. Understand their medications, the purpose of each, side effects and dosage – forgetting medication is often a common sign of aging, so be prepared to help with this.
  • Search for resources – Be thorough in your research when considering care options for an aging parent. There are plenty of resources online that can help. If you know anyone who has navigated a similar situation, ask for their advice, too. Explore all your options, such as day programs for older adults or in-home care that could help your parent prepare for a transition to assisted living or memory care if and when it becomes necessary.
  • Understanding dementia – A parent diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia will have additional care needs, which you can learn more about by reading this blog and downloading this comprehensive PDF guide.

Assemble a care team

Many hands make light work. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from family, neighbors, clergy or care professionals.

  • Find a role for everyone – Everyone can play a meaningful and helpful part in caring for an older adult. Even a simple phone call to keep loneliness at bay can make a big impact. Neighbors and relatives may be able to assist with transportation or accompany your parent to doctor appointments. Those who live farther away may be able to contribute financially or help research and gather useful information.
  • Designate a leader – A leader isn’t someone who is ultimately responsible or in charge of making executive decisions. Instead, the care team leader should task themselves with making sure issues get addressed in a timely manner, ensuring there are no gaps in care, anticipating future needs that may arise and keeping the care team on the same page.
  • Consider a mediator – Even when people have the best intentions, it can be hard to agree on the often emotionally charged decisions that need to be made when providing care for a senior parent. Family dynamics come into play, and personalities may clash. An unbiased, third-party mediator can help iron things out so everyone can focus on what’s really important: making sure your loved one gets the care they need.

Develop a clear care plan

When expectations and responsibilities aren’t conveyed directly, things often slip through the cracks. Everyone involved in caring for an aging parent needs to know what their role is and how that role fits into the larger care plan.

  • Delegate to others – Caring for an aging or ailing parent is a big task; no one should feel they have to shoulder it alone, especially first-time caregivers. Seek the support of siblings and divvy up tasks among the care team according to their proximity and abilities.
  • Be honest with yourself – Ask yourself what you are truly able and willing to do or contribute to a loved one’s care and ask others to do the same. Taking on more than you can handle can lead to stress and fatigue, so consider seeking outside support.
  • Put it in writing – Write up a summary of care needs and persons assigned to meet them. This may change as life circumstances evolve, perhaps with a cross-country move or the birth of a child, but having something in writing will make it easy to keep track of who is doing what–and to reconfigure responsibilities if and when that becomes necessary.
  • Facilitate communication – Use technology to your advantage. Consider a group chat, dedicated email chain or even a Facebook family group to keep everyone in the loop.
  • Care for your loved one

Once you’ve educated yourself, created a care team and outlined a clear care plan, you’ll be best prepared to provide care for your aging parent.

  • Keep them safe – First and foremost, you need to ensure your senior parent is safe, especially if they are aging in place. That could look like accessibility modifications to the home, incorporating an emergency alert system, providing transportation or arranging for daily wellness check visits.
  • Be an advocate – Attend doctor’s appointments with your parent and ask questions. Medical terminology can be daunting, and information overload is real. Gaps in care or poor information sharing between providers can also be roadblocks to care; having an informed advocate will make sure all the moving parts work together.
  • Seek out training – As a first-time caregiver, you will be asked to perform duties you may have never encountered before. Don’t be afraid to seek out training on how to do things like dress a wound and administer medication or how to use specialized medical equipment.
  • Stay organized – This is great advice for any undertaking, but it is especially important for first-time caregivers. Keep records of doctors, healthcare providers and medications, as well as information on insurance policies, government assistance programs and other pertinent details handy.

Care for yourself

You are important, too. It’s vitally important that you make sure your needs are met, so that you can best help care for your aging parent.

  • Understand the total cost – Becoming a caregiver is more than a financial commitment. Understand that it will also require time and emotional investment. Be realistic with yourself about how multiple facets of your life may need to be adjusted.
  • Work with your employer – If possible, ask your employer if they can accommodate a more flexible schedule that would allow you to provide care.
  • Be compassionate with yourself – Remember: you are only human. Treat yourself with kindness and consider finding a support group for caregivers, either online or in your area.
  • Arrange for respite care – Respite care is short-term care that can be arranged for an afternoon or several days to provide relief for caregivers. Providing care to an aging parent can be demanding, and respite care workers are there to help.
  • Make time for yourself – Helping others can be very demanding, both physically and emotionally. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep, eating well and exercising. If things become overwhelming, consider talking to a therapist
  • Care that fosters confidence

At Atria Senior Living, we believe care is an important, yet discreet, part of life that empowers older adults to stay active, grow and engage in what brings purpose and joy. We offer tiered care for older adults ranging from assistance with medication and personal grooming to round-the-clock memory care – learn more here.

We’re always here to help

As a leader in the industry, Atria Senior Living is happy to share our expertise and offer any support we can – even if the support you need is from someone other than us. We can call on our trusted relationships with other senior living organizations and resources to put you in touch with the best solution for you and your family. Feel free to reach out to your local Atria Community Director today.

Our Guide for First Time Caregivers (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.

Top Articles