A guide to caring for elderly parents
Last updated 25th August 2023
8 min read
As we get older, we tend to rely more on the help of others for many of the daily tasks in our lives. Professional help may not be affordable or practical for your family, so there may come a time when you need to consider caring for your elderly parents yourself.
In this article, we’ll offer some useful advice on caring for an elderly relative, what financial support is available for carers in the UK, and how to find additional help if you need it.
We’ll cover the following topics:
- Understanding and accepting when your parents need care
- Things to consider when planning to care for elderly parents
- Learning how to care for elderly parents
- Getting the help and support you need to care
Understanding and accepting when your parents need care
A loss of independence is one of the toughest parts of aging. So, it’s understandable that people may be reluctant to ask for or accept support. Similarly, it’s hard to watch our parents getting older and struggling to complete tasks that used to be simple, particularly when they raised and cared for us in the past.
Finding the time, financial resources and emotional strength required for elderly parent care can be difficult, particularly if you already have your own children to look after. Many adults are now finding themselves in a so-called sandwich generation, caring for both the generation above and below.
Signs that your elderly relatives may need care
Because of the fear and stigma associated with losing their independence, not everyone will ask for help when they need it. So, it's important to keep an eye out for signs that they are struggling with day-to-day tasks.
If you don’t see them often, this can be more difficult. However, there are some tell-tale signs that your loved one may require a little extra care, such as:
- Taking less care with personal hygiene
- Forgetting to take medication
- Having less strength or mobility
- Being paranoid or getting confused easily
- Forgetting to eat meals
- New injuries or burns
- Forgetting to pay bills
If you notice the above signs, it's a good indication that you may need to start providing extra care for your elderly relative.
How to offer your support
If you think your parent or relative needs additional care, the first step is to discuss this with them. This can be a difficult conversation to have. But, being open and honest will help you to share your concerns and show that you are coming from a place of love and support.
Here are some helpful things to bear in mind when discussing care requirements with your elderly parents:
- Don’t put off having the conversation just because it feels awkward. Early intervention can help to keep your family members safe and healthy.
- Bring it up somewhere relaxed and comfortable, like at home over a cup of tea.
- Be specific. Instead of saying you think they need more help in general, give examples of things that you have found worrying, and make suggestions to solve them.
- Be respectful of their feelings and make sure they are part of the discussion. Don't be accusatory, patronising, or dictate what needs to be done.
- Take the process slowly, by being open, honest and patient. Your loved one may wish to think about things for a day or two before agreeing to any next steps.
Common concerns about caring for elderly parents
Talking to your parents about care may bring up some unpleasant feelings and concerns of your own. These are perfectly normal.
It’s important to consider any concerns and address them honestly to ensure the best outcome for everyone involved.
These considerations may include:
- Future health worries and the possibility of your loved one passing away
- How caring for a parent could change your relationship with them
- Worries about delivering medical care and managing medication
- The impact of care on your own mental and physical health
- The financial cost of caring for an elderly relative
- How to deal with resistance to accepting your support
It may be helpful to discuss these concerns with someone else, such as your partner, a sibling or a medical professional.
Things to consider when planning to care for elderly parents
There is a lot of research and planning to do before you decide to take on the responsibilities of elderly parent care. Consider your parent’s requirements as well as your own situation to figure out the right next steps.
Location and accommodation
The basic logistics are the first thing to consider. Some questions to ask yourself might be:
- Do you live close enough to them to be able to provide care?
- Do you have suitable transport to get there on a regular basis?
- Does their situation require live-in care and, if so, are you able to move them into your home?
- Would a care home or supported accommodation be more suitable?
Also consider their long-term needs. Will their house require any adaptations to accommodate them as they age? For example, they may find it hard to get up and down the stairs, so installing a stair lift or moving them to a single-storey home may be beneficial.
- Does your elderly parent have specific health requirements that may lead to them needing specialist support?
- If yes, is that something that you will be able to handle on your own, or will you need the help of home healthcare workers?
While it costs more to hire professional carers, doing this will ensure that your parent receives the specialist help they need. Even having a care worker visit once or twice a day for half an hour can be a huge support for both you and the person you’re looking after.
Caring for an elderly relative can be a lot of responsibility for one person.
- Do you have family and friends who are willing and able to help you?
Siblings often share the responsibility of looking after elderly parents. However, this may not always be possible depending on where they live, and their own responsibilities.
As much as you may wish to care for your elderly parents, it’s important not to overlook the mental and physical impact it can have on you. If you believe that you will struggle caring for your elderly parents on your own, it’s better to ask for support than to end up burning out.
Learning how to care for elderly parents
Once you’ve taken the necessary steps to start becoming a carer, it’s important to do a little research on what is required to protect their physical, emotional and mental wellbeing.
Activities of Daily Living (ADLs)
Activities of Daily Living(betterhealthwhileaging.net opens in a new tab), also known as ADLs, refer to the key things involved in caring for someone to make sure they are able to live their lives with dignity, and that their physical and emotional needs are being met.
- Walking or getting around at home and outside
- Eating and drinking
- Dressing and undressing
- Going to the toilet
- Bathing and grooming
- Moving from one position to another, such as standing up from a bed or chair
Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADLs)
There are also a number of Instrumental Activities of Daily Living(betterhealthwhileaging.net opens in a new tab), or IADLs, that should be managed alongside ADLs to ensure that a person has a good quality of life. Whether you take care of these yourself or enlist the help of a sibling or professional carer, IADLs are another important part of providing care for an elderly relative.
- Cooking and preparing meals
- Taking medication
- Cleaning and home maintenance
- Shopping and running errands
- Managing money and paying bills
- Communicating with others
Getting into a routine
Setting up a routine will help to make things easier and less stressful for both you and the person you’re caring for. Create a schedule of what days you’ll be visiting, when and for how long, medication and meal times, shopping trips, and when they should get up and go to bed.
You might not get the schedule right the first time, and might have to adapt it before you find something that works for everyone. Make sure that your loved one can see the schedule so you both know what to expect and when. This will help them to feel more comfortable and preserve their privacy.
Caring for yourself
Caring for an elderly relative can take its toll on your own mental and physical health, so make sure you look after yourself as well. If you run yourself into the ground, you won’t be able to provide the essential support your parent is relying on.
Make sure to eat a balanced, healthy diet, exercise regularly, spend time with friends and family, and take time for yourself to relax and enjoy hobbies. Listen to your body and recognise when it’s time to take a break and hand the responsibility to someone else for a short period of time.
Getting the help and support you need to care
Luckily, there’s a lot of support available for carers. So you’re not alone on this journey, no matter how difficult it is.
There are benefits that you can claim to help with the financial cost of caring for an elderly parent, and there are also a number of organisations offering mental health support.
Carers Allowance and how to apply
If you care for someone for at least 35 hours a week, and they receive certain benefits, you could be eligible for Carer’s Allowance(www.gov.uk opens in a new tab). Bear in mind that applying for Carer’s Allowance can impact other benefits that you or your relative receive.
Other benefits and support for carers
Depending on your circumstances, you or the person you’re caring for may be eligible for other benefits and financial support, including:
- Carer's Credit(www.gov.uk opens in a new tab)
- Attendance Allowance(www.gov.uk opens in a new tab)
- Constant Attendance Allowance(www.gov.uk opens in a new tab)
- Personal Independence Payment (PIP)(www.gov.uk opens in a new tab)
- Pension Credit(www.gov.uk opens in a new tab)
- Universal Credit(www.gov.uk opens in a new tab)
- NHS Low Income Scheme(www.nhs.uk opens in a new tab)
- Housing Benefit(www.gov.uk opens in a new tab)
There are also several organisations that provide support for those caring for elderly relatives, children, or other family members, including Carers Trust(carers.org opens in a new tab) and Carers UK(www.carersuk.org opens in a new tab).
You can also contact your GP for help and advice.
Caring for an elderly parent can be challenging. But, with careful planning and consideration, you can minimise stress and enable a smooth transition into caring.
Remember to ask for help if you need it, and to take care of your own health as well.
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