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How to Help Your Elderly Parents

How do you support elderly parents who need help, but won’t accept it? These tips are inspired by a reader who is wondering how to help her mother who is too proud to ask for help.

Here’s what she says, on How to Cope With Difficult Parents:

“I am wondering how to help my mother find balance between needing help (which she does, living alone for the first time after my father’s death and having gone successfully through open-heart surgery and post-op) and asking for help (which she is very reluctant to do. She often has things she needs done but no one knows it, and then she is resentful because no one ‘noticed’ and did it without asking. On the other side of the spectrum, she is fearful of feeling ‘obligated’ to us for helping.”

If you’re in the same boat, read books like Coping With Your Difficult Older Parent: A Guide for Stressed-Out Children by Grace Lebow — it’s a helpful, practical resource.

And, here are a few tips for coping with your elders…

Tips for Helping Elderly Parents

More of my reader’s comment:

“I’ve tried to point out that we are family and despite having a husband, family and a job I can’t afford to quit, I’m willing to help as much as I can, when I can, and I don’t expect anything in return,” she says. “But it’s only a temporary fix and the same discussion appears over and over. What is going on?”

Try to figure out what your parent needs

Sometimes relationships and events aren’t what they seem. That is, if you’re constantly arguing with your elderly parent about all the junk she hoards and refuses to get rid of, you may not be dealing with a “hoarding” issue. It could be her fear of letting go, of being poor, of giving up stuff that represents her past. Or – as could be happening in my reader’s case – perhaps your mom is offended because she doesn’t feel noticed…which may mean she doesn’t feel loved.

Before you can give your elderly parent what he or she needs, you first have to figure out what the core issue is. This may involve talking to experts in elder care issues, joining a support group of other people with elderly parents, or just talking it through with someone you trust.

Figure out your “ideal situation”

Write down exactly what you want your life – and your parent’s life – to look like. Do you want to drive your mom to her hairdresser or doctor’s appointments every week? Wash her back every night? Visit her once every six years? Be painfully honest about what you can and can’t do to help your parent. And, be specific. Don’t just say “I want to make sure my mom gets the help she needs.”

What type of help does she need? What time commitment does that require? Who is the best person to provide that? Maybe hiring someone is the best solution – read Hiring a Caregiver – Tips for Family Members.

Find and implement permanent solutions

My mom lives in Saskatchewan and I’m in Vancouver. She’s only 66, so not exactly and “elderly” parent – but she’s seriously schizophrenic. I call her every two weeks, but rarely visit. Luckily, I have a good reason: she doesn’t cope well with in-person visits. She tires easily, and gets weirded out even easier. But, she belongs to a mental health group that meets three times a week and has a volunteer who drives her to her occasional medical appointments in nearby cities (she lives in a very small city). This is the permanent solution that works for us.

Take care of your “BFF”

One last comment from my reader:

“I can deal with being busy…not having a social life…and helping with two households, but I’m really overwhelmed with the emotional ups and downs,” she says. “Thanks for any advice you can offer.”

Maybe this should be the first, most important tip for helping elderly parents who don’t need help: keep yourself as emotionally, spiritually, and physically healthy as possible. A BFF stands for “best friend forever” – and you are your own best friend. How do you treat your best friend? Are you letting her get exhausted, drained, bored, sad, listless, and depressed? It’s time to switch tracks! What does your BFF need? How can you give it to her – how can you help her so she can take better care of her elderly parent? (which doesn’t necessarily mean in-person visits every day).

You may also find Reducing Caregiver Stress When Caring for Elderly or Ill Parents helpful – it’s by B. Lynn Goodwin, author of You Want Me to Do What?.

Another book for helping elderly parents is Elder Rage, or Take My Father… Please! How to Survive Caring for Aging Parents by Jacqueline Marcel.

Are you struggling to care for elderly parents who refuse to admit they need help? Comments welcome…


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2 thoughts on “How to Help Your Elderly Parents”

  1. Hello Michelle,

    Thank you for being here, and for sharing your story! You’re right that you and your boyfriend are unique — mostly because of his age. Many men are connected to their parents even long after is healthy or reasonable, but it’s gone on a little long for your boyfriend.

    Here’s an article that addresses family interference in relationships:

    You already know this, but I think it’s very important to remember that your boyfriend and his father will probably not change. It’s hard enough to detach a 20 year old from controlling, overprotective parents – much less a 51 year old! Their habits and patterns are ingrained, and they’d have to be highly motivated to change. No matter how strongly your boyfriend feels about you or cares for you, he may not be able to extricate himself from his dad.

    Your boyfriend sounds like a kind, gentle man who is loving and compassionate. It’s ironic, isn’t it? Those are the very qualities we want in our men…yet they can cause problems in our relationship :-)

    If I were you and felt strongly for him, I’d accept him as a package deal. Love is hard to find! I’d live my own live — continue the family vacations and do whatever I want — and continually invite my boyfriend. If it gets to be too lonely or uncomfortable with him never around, I’d reconsider the relationship.

    What do you want to do — besides detach your boyfriend from his dad? :-)

    Stay true to you,

  2. I think my story is very unique. I am dating a 51 year-old man who never left home, mostly because his parents couldn’t let go of him, but also other reasons, such as soon as he got out of high school he went to college and got a drafting degree. Upon graduating he work for 3 or 4 different companies and then landed a very good job working for GM. He worked 6 or 7 days a week on 2nd shift for 20 years. Very dificult to have a social life when you work nights. He told me that nobody ever introduced him to women. He said he thought his mother told them not to. He had a very close relationship with his mother. He was a miracle child because they thought they were unable to have children. But she got pregnant with him in her late 40’s. By the time he graduated from high school his parents were already elderly and needed to be taken care of. Which he did. He said he did date occasionally, but his parents were not very receptive of his lady friends. He didn’t lose his virginity until he was in his early 30’s. He is very nice-looking but a little awkward in social situations. Perhaps a bit of social anxiety. He’s one of those sweet, nerdy-type guys. But the nicest guy you’d ever want to know! His mother passed away of cancer 10 years ago and he stayed on to take care of his father, now 94. It is very stressful for him as his dad is very demanding. Wants him home all the time and if he is 5 minutes late getting home from work, he gets scolded. We started dating about 1 & 1/2 years ago. Problem is that his dad will only let him see me on Saturdays after 3pm. No other time. Once a week, that’s it! And when we are on a date his dad will often call wanting to know when he is coming home. And when I have an event such as a graduation open house or wedding to go to, his dad wants to go with us. I don’t mind except that he always wants to just eat and go. So, we end up having to leave sooner than we wanted to, and miss out on the fun—dancing, etc. My boyfriend hasn’t taken a vacation in over 10 years. My family takes a 2 or 3 day vacation together on the beach every summer. Last year he came up, but only stayed about 4 or 5 hours. enough to play some volleyball and have a cookout on the beach. Because his dad wanted him home. The rest of us stayed 2 days. This year we are doing another family vacation on a beach that is a 5-hour drive away. definitely an over-nighter thing because of the distance. It doesn’t look like he will be able to go. his dad refuses to let anyone else stay with him and look after him while he is gone. I know that it will go on this way until his dad either passes, or gets so bad that he must be put in a nursing home. But as long as his dad is capable of walking or crawling, he would probably escape if put in one at this point! Very frustrating1 i would like to have a normal relationship, but his dad controls him and treats him like a 10 year-old. He is good at giving him guilt trips and cutting him down. And will speak badly of him to family and friends if he leaves to go out with me. if it were me, it wouldn’t bother me because his family and friends know how his dad is and know that he needs to get out and have a life of his own. But with him, it upsets him, so he tries to avoid any kind of boat-rocking when it comes to his dad. i wish he would just stand up to his dad, but I think it has been this way for so long that he has just come to accept that that is the way it is.