Caring for Elderly Parents

When Roles Get Reversed — Coping Successfully With Aging Parents

One can barely hear, the other fears losing her ability to take care of her life. One is paranoid about others wanting his money, the other is easily confused. One won’t stop driving, even long after he’s a menace on the road. The other doesn’t want to go to the doctor. One continues to take care of the other long after they’re really able to do so. And through it all, we wonder how much longer our parents will be able to live on their own.

If we’re fortunate, we get to watch our parents grow old. At 78, our average lifespan is the highest it’s ever been. More seniors are enjoying being more active than ever before.

But living longer can also mean experiencing more health problems and losing some of life’s privileges.

When our aging parents begin to show signs that they need a little extra help or support, we often have to step in and assume a parental role. This role reversal can be very trying. It’s not that we don’t love our parents, but being responsible for them—let alone living with them again—is an entirely different matter.

First come the practical problems. Then the emotional complexities—the feelings that arise as a result of seeing our parents age, dealing with them as they age, and dealing with siblings and other family members regarding parental issues.

Dealing with aging parents can be stressful and often involves a myriad of feelings including sadness, resentment, anger, frustration, and even fear. Besides your aging parents, you might have to deal with siblings who, for a variety of reasons, aren’t willing or able to help you.

It is vital to learn how to deal with these feelings effectively so they don’t grow out of control. Ask for help. If you cannot get help from other family members, get it from anti-aging books, support groups, a professional counselor, or anywhere else it’s available.

Becoming a caregiver to parents involves major changes for all concerned—physical, emotional, social, and financial. Learning to cope with the changes in a healthy way is important to ensure both you and your parents maintain respectful and loving relationships.

Developing successful strategies to deal with these changes will also help you and your parents make this life transition with ease, grace, and—most importantly—dignity.

You’re definitely not alone, nor are you the first person to deal with aging parents and the feelings associated with this challenging process.

Please feel free to contact me for additional resources for coping with aging parents. I can be reached by phone at (650) 947-4044 or by e-mail at

Common Problems When Faced With Aging Parents
— And Some Common and Not-So-Common Solutions

The Importance of Communicating and Planning Ahead

Part of the problem is that for most of your life your parents have been your parents. They’re the ones that have told you what to do. Now you’re reaching a point in your life where you’re starting to interfere with their lives and they’re not likely to appreciate it.

Begin communicating with your parents early, before crisis hits. Rather than reacting to situations involving aging parents, plan for them. Discuss with your parents where they want to go when they’re no longer able to care for themselves.

Everyday issues such as whether they prefer baths or showers, what they prefer to eat, which anti-aging products they prefer, and even if they want to be buried (and where) or cremated should be discussed well ahead of time—while they’re still “all there” and emotions aren’t in the way.

Keep in mind: as frustrating as it may be, your parents may not want your advice or want you meddling in their business. You can try convincing them of something until you’re blue in the face. But, no matter how hard you try, they might not listen.

Many aging parents of today fear losing their independence and self-reliance, or they may be resistant to your help or advice simply because they’re as unused to the role reversal that’s happening as you are.

For your own sake and theirs, know when it’s time to give up and end the conversation. The best you can do in these situations is to make your parents understand that you care about them and their well-being.

When Other Family Members Aren’t Helping

If you have siblings, it can be a great relief to have someone to go through this process with who shares your concerns and can help with the logistics. Of course, while we’d all like our brothers and sisters to be equal caregivers, the sad reality is that all siblings don’t always give equally.

This can create a lot of additional tension in a family. Old rivalries may play out at the expense of parents. If siblings can’t set aside their differences for the purpose of accomplishing specific goals, they’ll be unable to work together and will leave others to carry out their responsibilities.

If you have adult siblings who refuse to help you care for your aging parents, resent the time spent caring for your parents, disagree, discourage, undermine your care efforts, or steal from your parents, you’ll be faced with even more difficult choices than if you were an only child.

If there’s no one else to fall back on for support, seeking the professional assistance of a social worker or licensed counselor can be especially beneficial.

Not only can these professionals help you cope with and successfully handle your new responsibilities, they can also help you resolve, or at least work around, the difficulties you’re experiencing with your siblings.

Always remember, you’re not alone. Others have struggled with these same issues in the past. And help is available whenever you need it.

Please don’t hesitate to contact me at (650) 947-4044 or by e-mail at for more information, additional resources, and/or to schedule a free consultation.

What to Do When You Have Children As Well

Wanting to care for both our children and our parents is a lovely sentiment but a daunting task.

If this describes your situation, welcome to the so-called Sandwich Generation. This term is commonly used to describe a family with children, two working parents, and one or two aging parents.

It’s increasingly common that at least one adult child in a household will have an aging parent who is in need of some help. Who’s going to take Mom to the doctor, Dad to physical therapy, and the kids to soccer practice? Mounting pressures can result in feelings of anxiety, stress, and depression that quickly grow between the adult children who are trying to do it all.

You may find yourself feeling trapped and/or guilty as you try to juggle multiple responsibilities and demands. If left unaddressed, these feelings can threaten not only your health, but your marriage, your job, your relationship with your children, and your family’s financial security.

Be on the lookout for signs of stress and burnout, including depression, constant fatigue, poor concentration, hostility, low self-esteem, or recurring physical illness. If you’re experiencing any of these, or just feel overwhelmed and in over your head, seek assistance before matters get worse.

Professional help is available when you need it, for as long as you need it.

Contact me at (650) 947-4044 or by e-mail at for more information, referral resources, or to schedule a free consultation.

Additional Strategies — Helping You and Your Parents Live Life to Its Fullest

Caregiving involves difficult decisions that should be handled with as much thought and discussion as possible.

Do not jump into drastic changes (like having your parent move into your home) because you feel guilty or pressured. Be realistic about your own abilities, desires, and limitations, as well as those of your family members. Weigh all of your options carefully.

Approaching your aging parents about these issues takes a delicate balance of awareness, concern, and communication skill. Remember that you’re working with them, not against them.

Always keep the preservation of their quality of life in the front of your mind. Don’t approach them with an “I have to take this away from you” mentality, but rather “I’d like to talk about some serious issues we’re facing or will be facing in the future.”

Change “you” to “I”—nobody likes hearing a statement that begins with “you should.” Instead of listening, the person on the receiving end is busy preparing their defense. So, whenever possible, begin your statements with “I.” “I’m concerned” or “I was thinking” sets up a less confrontational situation. Show them your compassion and dedication.

It’s Never Too Late to Seek Help

The often unexpected and frequently unwanted responsibilities of caring for aging parents create a multitude of problems for those who must shoulder them.

The commitment required may be brief or it may last for years. But regardless of its duration, this commitment changes the feelings, responsibilities, and roles within your family and can be a complicated and confusing time for everyone involved.

If you’re dealing with aging parents and feel you need more assistance than friends and family can provide, professional counseling can be extremely helpful.

Counseling can help you navigate tensions with siblings about who provides care, resolve feelings of anger regarding historical traumas, overcome the guilt of not doing enough for your parents, and help you work with your spouse to make mutually acceptable decisions about the distribution of family responsibilities.

I’ve helped numerous clients deal with aging parents who can no longer safely drive but refuse to quit, detrimentally skimp on expenses even though they’re not poor, refuse to see a doctor and ignore medical advice, want to move in with their children, antagonize home health aides, and are unwilling to discuss vital end-of-life issues.

In a supportive, respectful, and confidential setting, I can work with you to:

  • Define your comfort levels and the limits of your capabilities;
  • Understand and resolve your feelings of confusion, guilt, and anger;
  • Deal with sibling issues as they arise;
  • Learn techniques to help you make objective decisions; and
  • Arrive at effective, caring solutions to the problems you’re presented.

It’s never too late to ask for help!

While you may not always get what you want from the people you want it from, outside resources are always available.

If you’re caring for aging parents and feel you could use more assistance than you’re getting, call a community organization that can help you find support, or contact me for referral information or to schedule a consultation, (650) 947-4044 or by e-mail at nanette@nanettefreedland.comAnd, remember, I’m here to help in any way I can!

Additional Resources:


  • Taking Care of Your aging Family Members: A Practical Guide by Wendy Lustbader and Nancy R. Hooyman (The Free Press, 1994)
  • Growing Older and Wiser by Nathan Billig (Lexington Books, 1993)


© 2008 - 2023 Nanette Freedland, MFT | CA License: MFC 28411