Adult son talking with senior father on park bench

How to Care for Aging Parents As an Adult Child

Aging is beautiful. Aging is inevitable. And while it can also be stressful to see the signs of aging in ourselves, it can be even more difficult to watch how aging affects our parents. Navigating what to do when our parents can no longer take care of themselves can be overwhelming and confusing. By starting the conversation early, thoroughly researching your options and finding local support, caring for senior parents can become easier.

Communicate with Your Parents

One of the best things you can do for your parents is start the conversation about future plans sooner rather than later. Ask what they’d like to do if there ever comes a time when they can no longer take care of themselves. Listen to what their plans and preferences are before offering your thoughts.

It’s helpful that you thoroughly do your research before your conversation and come prepared with the different options that include senior care homes, at-home care, Independent Living and Assisted Living communities. You should also consider the various costs and funding options associated with senior living as well as what best suits your parents’ desired lifestyle.

Frances Hall is the Founder and Executive Director of Adult Children of Aging Parents, a non-profit organization devoted to providing resources and a community for adult children of aging parents. Her biggest piece of advice to adult children: Don’t wait.

“Have conversations, begin research and anticipating what to do when your parents age – as early as possible,” she said. “The reality is that our parents get older as we get older. Mom and Dad may be OK right now, but let’s look at five, 10 and 15 years down the road.

Aging Parent Checklist

There are a number of things to consider before helping your parents transition into the next stage of their lives. By identifying the state of each checkpoint and asking certain questions, you can better identify if your parents need professional senior care.

  • Mobility: How much can your parents get around? Check and see if your parent can move around their home, climb the stairs, etc.
  • Housing conditions: Is your parents’ current home too large for them? Are they able to take care of their home, doing chores such as taking out the trash and cleaning the bathroom?
  • Transportation: Can your parents still drive? Do you notice dents or scratches on their car? Who will be able to drive them if they are unable to get behind the wheel?
  • Mental health: Are your parents showing signs of dementia or Alzheimer’s? Are they easily forgetting things or getting lost often?
  • Physical health: Are your parents able to bathe and dress themselves? Are they also able to get groceries, cook and feed themselves? Have they been taking their necessary medications?
  • Finance: Do you notice a stack of bills on their table? Are they able to take care of their monthly bills on their current income or retirement funds? Have they applied for Social Security benefits and/or Medicare?

Resources for Adult Children

Once you’ve communicated with your parents and mutually decided that some form of senior care is the best option, transitioning into this new stage of life can carry a lot of uncertainty. Thankfully, there are a multitude of resources to help you through the process.

The National Association of Area Agencies on Aging is a great resource to start with. This non-profit offers over 600 Area Agencies on Aging throughout the nation, with each providing a wealth of resources for adult children of aging parents. They can guide you through the various resources available from long-term programs, Medicare, Social Security and transitioning to Assisted Living.

Seeking out a Senior Move Manager or Geriatric Care Manager can also be helpful. These are trained professionals who are able to take you step by step through the process of creating a plan for your parents to move into senior living. “These people can be your eyes and ears for your parent when you’re not living with them in an Assisted Living community,” Hall said. “They can also help determine what is the next step that needs to be done.”

There are a number of online resources that can provide articles and answer common questions for adult children. DailyCaring, ACAP, Caregiver Action Network, n4a, Capital Senior Living and the National Institute on Aging all provide valuable resources and tools to help you better care for your aging parents.

Although it may be a tough transition for your parents to move out of their homes and into senior care, it can also be a draining, emotional process for you as their child. If you are finding it difficult to cope with the change, try talking to your doctor, who can refer you to a counselor who can help you during this time of change.  

Physicians, social workers, churches and attorneys are all valuable resources for adult children to turn to when they have aging parents. Reach out to friends or colleagues who have already gone through the same experience of transitioning their parents into senior care.

How to Support Your Parents After Transitioning

If you live far away from your aging parents, it can be a bit harder to show Mom and Dad that you care for them. The key is to keep communication open and consistent. Try to call, email and send texts, letters, cards and packages frequently. Continue to ask what their favorite activities are, if they’ve made friends, and if they are interested in getting involved in their local senior center.

“The adult children need to find out their parent’s perspective and figure out what their day looks like,” Hall said. “What are the joys and challenges of their day? I strongly suggest finding out who their neighbors are and get telephone numbers. Find out who is involved in your parent’s life. It’s important to be able to contact these people and have a second set of eyes helping you out.”

Frances recommends starting and continuing traditions between you and your parents to keep that familial connection alive.  While traditions such as visiting on holidays and birthdays can be fun, it might also be interesting to designate a family picnic day during the spring or plan annual summer weekend getaways to continue showing your love.

While living out of town can make it harder to visit in-person, you can also video chat or send care packages more frequently. No matter how you show your affection, a simple phone call can make your parents’ day.

“These are the people who raised us. A lot of people talk about switching roles and parenting your parents. But, we don’t. We never do. They will always be our parents.”

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