The Caring For Elderly Parents Survival Guide (By Two Women Who Understand)

Daughter sitting next to elderly mother in wheelchair

Are you caring for elderly parents and feeling overwhelmed? Are you looking for relevant answers and support? Then this survival guide is for you.

We’re Jessica and Nancy – we’ve got personal and professional caregiving experience and we want to share it with you. So whether you’re currently caregiving or just looking ahead to the future and wanting to be prepared, we hope our guide (and free download) is useful.

Whilst we’ve gone into detail here, there’s only so much you can write in an article! If you like what you read here, then why not check out our online caregiving course. Perfect for anyone who is feeling the stress of caring for elderly parents, it will help you feel in control and know what your options are. We also offer 1-2-1 caregiving coaching, for you to discuss your specific situation with us.

Looking After Elderly Parents

More and more of us now find ourselves in the sandwich generation – looking after elderly parents whilst helping our immediate family and keeping all the plates of normal life spinning.

The sandwich generation stress is real, as looking after elderly parents can often be the hardest piece of the puzzle. Our parents are often fiercely independent. Used to being in control of their life, with their own finances, wants and needs, this family role reversal conflicts with this. They don’t always want to accept that they’re getting older. Plus, from our perspective it can be hard to know what to do or where to turn. So often we’re left to muddle through on our own.

This survival guide looks at key caregiving areas, to help you feel in control.

What To Do When You Notice Parents Getting Older

You might be surprised to hear, but we don’t think the first step in caring for an elderly parent is talking to them. Instead, take a step back and work out what you think the main areas of concern are. There will always be things that are more pressing than others and you need to prioritise the concerns.

Observe how they are in their home environment (either face-to-face or via video call if lockdown is keeping you apart). Look for tell tale signs like:

  • Is the house a mess?
  • Are they taking their medication?
  • If you’re seeing them in person for the first time post lockdown, do they look less mobile?
  • Or when speaking on the phone, keep a note of the conversation. Are they getting muddled or repeating things?

Keep a notepad, or start a Notes section on your phone so you can record everything.

This activity helps you prioritise what you see as the main issues. Look for themes from your notes, and use this as a basis for a conversation grounded in fact (and concern). For this reason, this activity is especially helpful for people who are dealing with negative elderly parents, or if your parents refuse help.

Downlad our elderly parents checklist to help you understand more what to look for.

And if you’ve got a sibling or another relative who is also involved, include them in this. Having more than one point of view can be really helpful.

Are you worried about dementia? We can support you with resources on when’s the right time to move into a care home, puzzles and activities to entertain and how to get a diagnosis.

How To Communicate With Elderly Parents

OK, so you’ve got your list of concerns – the next step is to speak with your parents and find out how they really are. Ageing is a sensitive topic (your parent may be oblivious to the changes or may be choosing not to notice them) so this isn’t going to necessarily be an easy, open conversation.

Having The Chat

  1. Plan to have the chat. Don’t spring such an important conversation on them!
  2. Show your concern. Communicate that you’re worried about them and that planning for the future means you can all help your loved ones as much as possible.
  3. Choose a setting where they’re comfortable. If lockdown allows, have it at their home, or if it needs to be outside make sure it’s not too noisy. Keep it to a small group – no small children who may interrupt or take the attention away.
  4. Present scenarios and situations – going in and saying “you can’t cope” won’t get you anywhere.
  5. Use open questions and if the talk is stalling, use conversation starters (such as “I haven’t been to your house for ages, are you managing to keep on top of the housework?”).

Discussing all elderly parent concerns might not be as clear cut as one conversation. Take your time, show your support and you’ll get through it.

Hearing loss can make conversations even harder. If your parent is struggling, these simple devices could help them hear better.

Prioritise And Plan

From here, you should be able to start to, as a family, draw up a list that prioritises the biggest problem at the top.

Work through each concern and put a mini action plan in place:

  • Is a doctor’s appointment required?
  • What resources are available for you and your parent?
  • Could elderly aids help? This could be a bed aid to make getting in and out of bed easier, or other gadgets to make life easier for the elderly. 
  • Senior fitness is so important. Look into exercises, physiotherapy, useful products.
  • Consider your elderly care options. From a cleaner and admin support, to home care, live-in care or residential care homes.
  • What social activities are there (on and off line)?

Caregiving And Sibling Relationships

It can always be tricky to navigate when one sibling takes care of your parents more. If this is you, ask for help and set boundaries – you can’t (and shouldn’t have to) do it all.

Whilst distance makes it harder for some people to be hands on, there are always things they can do:

  • Speak with them. Let them know all you have on your plate – it may be they didn’t realise how much you were doing. Or you could even ask them to just ring your mum or dad at a certain time so you can be free to do something else.
  • What strengths do they have? Give them tasks that play into this. Could they investigate elderly care options or look into respite care options to relieve you for a short time?
  • Think about the jobs you do that aren’t location dependent. Can your sibling get involved and take these on? That could be anything from organising online pharmacy delivery to their weekly shopping, or even sorting out the flowers for Mother’s Day.
  • Set up a Whatsapp group so you and your siblings can easily discuss how your parents are and keep each other updated.
  • If you feel that you’re doing the the majority, it doesn’t have to stay this way. Speak up and ask for help. After all, how can you help your parent with their wellbeing if you’re feeling drained?

Setting Boundaries With Your Parents

If your parent is struggling to get in and out of the bath, or needs some help with mobility in bed, we’ve written about it all. Hope it helps.

There may be some things you’re fine to do in caregiving and others where you draw the line, such as personal care. Washing, getting dressed or dealing with incontinence can be too much for close family members, or your parent may wish to preserve their privacy. There is no shame in getting hourly carers in to help with this.

Write down what you will and won’t do, talk to your family about it and stick to it. Be honest with yourself about what you are capable of giving and don’t let other people shame you into doing more at the expense of your mental health.

Finding A Carer

This leads us on nicely to finding a carer – there are a few ways you can source care for your elderly parent.

If you think your parent needs care, then you can request a needs assessment (for your parent) and carer’s assessment (for you) from the council. 

The needs assessment will identify the level and care support your parent could need, and there could then be scope to be means tested for help paying this. Your parent can still get control over their care provider if this is the case (although they can choose for the local authority to manage it).

The carer’s assessment is there to see what provision can be put in place to make your life easier, and make recommendations about local support groups, benefits advice and more.

Paying for care is a complex journey, and the majority of people will need to pay for all their care (but in some cases, the NHS will provide fully-funded care). If this is the case, you and your parent may prefer to not have the assessment and contact care companies straightaway.

Whether you’re looking for domiciliary care (care for the elderly at home by the hour), overnight care, live-in care or a care home, there are so many options. Do your research and try not to get overwhelmed – work out what your loved one needs and wants now, and look at how you can make this happen. As they get older, their needs and level of care may change but you can’t plan too much for the future. Focus on the here and now.

Why Power Of Attorney Is Important

We recently gave caregiving advice to a client, an only child who lived abroad. She was starting to worry about her parents getting older and wanted our advice about her specific situation. One of the first questions I asked was about power of attorney, and it turned out that neither of her parents had it set up. Fast forward four weeks, and they are in the process of getting it in place.

We’ve got a short course all about power of attorney. Buy it now for only £10!

What Is Power Of Attorney?

The official term is Lasting Power Of Attorney and it’s a legal document that, in our opinion, everyone over the age of 18 should have.

It lets you appoint a donor (this can be one or multiple people) to act in your best interests if you lose mental capacity and cannot make decisions yourself (for example, due to dementia).

If your parent becomes unwell, you can’t just access their bank accounts to pay for their care, or make health-related decisions for them. The only person who can do this is their appointed attorney.

Only you can set this up for yourself, so please encourage your elderly parent to get POA in place.

There’s two types of power of attorney – property and financial affairs power of attorney and health and wellbeing power of attorney. The same, or different people can be the donors – for example, your sister may be a doctor and so be better suited to health, whilst you could take control of your parent’s finances if need be.

Download a free POA form from the Office of Public Guardian.

Elderly Home Safety

Our co-founder Nancy is a physiotherapist and she is passionate about adaptations and aids for the elderly to make home life easier. 97% of people want to stay living at home, and mobility aids and innovative pieces of equipment can help your parent achieve this. We’ve written far more in-depth about:

  • Products to make life easier: easy aids to help your parent’s current house more adaptable to their needs. From light sensors (to help prevent falls when walking to the bathroom at night) to wireless TV speakers for the hard of hearing, we’ve got the products you’re looking for.
  • Adaptive clothing: Conditions such as arthritis and Parkinson’s can make getting dressed harder as you age. It could be worth considering adaptive clothing – we love The Able Label which makes stylish clothing with hidden fasteners that are easy to put on. This is also a bonus if your parent needs help getting dressed – it can make the process easier and may mean you can cut down on carer hours. For shoes, our expert podiatrist has recommended her best shoes for the elderly and slippers to prevent falls.
  • Mobility aids can be a game changer for your parents (and give you peace of mind). There really is something for every eventuality and budget to make life easier. From adaptive beds and bed aids, to help getting in and out of the bath and walking aids, we’ve written in detail to help you feel in the know.

Home Adaptations For Elderly

There is government funding available to make your parent’s home more accessible. Minor adaptations and equipment is available via the local authority, and more major adaptations via disability grants (DFG).

How To Get Help For Elderly Parents

The first step is for your mum or dad to have a needs assessment. This will highlight that the home is not set-up for their current needs, and an occupational therapist will then make a home assessment.

According to the Care Act, if your parent is eligible, the council is not allowed to charge for equipment or adaptations to the home that cost less than £1,000. This isn’t means tested so even if your parent won’t receive care funding, they can still get this allowance.

Minor home adaptations and equipment include:

  • Walking aids including rollator, wheelchair
  • Ramp such as going from the house into the garden
  • Shower chair
  • Grab rails

Personal Alarms For The Elderly

Worried about your parent, but want to help them stay independent? Get a personal alarm! If your parent was to fall or need help, they can press a button and you will be notified.

Read our run-down of the best personal alarms on the market here.

If you’re worried that your parent wouldn’t press it in case it worried you, then you can also get more advanced personal alarms with in-built fall detectors and GPS tracking (ideal for people with dementia). Our preferred brand is Taking Care – they make the popular Age UK personal alarm.


Caring is anything but easy, whatever stage of the journey you’re at. It can be exhausting and worrying, and not knowing what’s lying ahead is so hard. Here at ElWell, we’re committed to providing elderly care tips to help you feel educated and empowered when looking after elderly parents.

We hope this article has provided you some comfort and supported you. If there’s other information you’re searching for about caring for parents, please have a look through our website or get in touch with us directly.  

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