Managing role reversal with aging parents

By  0 Comments

Leslie is a 54-year-old wife and mother of three. Two years ago, her mother fell and broke her hip. Since then, Leslie’s once very independent 84-year-old mom requires help with daily tasks, personal hygiene and just getting around.

In an instant, Leslie went from being a daughter living in another city to acting as a caregiver for her mother. Allowing the obligations to her own family to waver, Leslie now spends much of her time caring for her mother. And although the two are fairly close, Leslie was met with some immediate backlash from the woman who had always been the guide in her own life. The tables have been turned and the situation is stressful, to say the least.

The number of people taking care of an aging parent has skyrocketed over the last several years. Approximately ten million adult children over the age of 50 are caring for a loved one, feeding, bathing, dressing and providing personal care needs. Many “children” are playing the role of a lifetime, providing so much more than grocery shopping, appointment transportation and help with financial decisions. Caregiving is taxing, often vague in its responsibilities and extremely emotional for everyone involved.

Watching our parents lose their independence is one of the most challenging realities we face. For most of us, it is difficult to grasp the fact that the people who steered us through our childhood are the very people we end up caring for later in life. Although we may be strong decision makers when it comes to our children, caring for and making choices for our elderly parents is confusing, traumatic and even resented at times. So where do we begin with this often unavoidable role reversal?

Get informed
Learn about your parent’s illness or disability. You’ll be more effective as a caregiver and you will feel less anxiety about the choices you are making.

Encourage independence
You don’t have to do everything for your loved one. Allow your parent to safely complete tasks, administer their own personal care and make decisions as much as possible.

Reach out to other caregivers
Getting support from others in the same boat is beneficial and comforting. It helps to know there are others who are dealing with what you are going through.

Trust your gut
You know your parent better than anyone, so rely on your instincts. While you can’t disregard advice from doctors and specialists, make decisions with you and your parent’s years of experience in mind.

Set limits
Only you know how much time and effort you can give to your parent’s situation. Be truthful about how much time you actually can devote to them. Set clear limits and communicate those limits to doctors, family members and other people involved.

Lay it on the line
If you haven’t already had the uncomfortable conversation, it is now time to talk. Know in advance what your parent wants regarding the legal power and responsibility to make decisions for them. If you don’t know the ins and outs of a power of attorney, a living will or a healthcare proxy, ask a few trusted family members who have been in your situation before or find an eldercare expert or attorney to help.

Ask for help
Caring for an aging parent can take more than one person, especially if you don’t live close in proximity. Asking for help from family members, friends, church, community and even neighbors, on occasion, is necessary so you don’t burn out, which can hinder your ability to provide care.

Depending on a family’s financial limitations, getting professional help may be an option. Before seeking help, make sure you understand your parent’s needs. Note all the caregiving tasks necessary and then determine what activities you can do as well as the ones you will need help completing.

Home sweet home
Most seniors would like to live independently in the comforts of their own home for as long as possible even if circumstances regarding their health have changed. Some companies offer home evaluations that provide suggestions for home modifications, repairs, in-home care and other needs to be addressed so the senior can stay in their home longer. Often, caregivers are relieved to get a professional’s opinion on changes that may need to be addressed in the home.

No matter how you look at it, caregiving is demanding, but you don’t have to be overwhelmed by the responsibilities. And despite its challenges, a newfound role reversal can also be rewarding. There are a lot of things caregivers can do to make the process easier and more pleasurable for themselves as well as for the person they are helping. Caring for someone you love may be beneficial for both of you and connect you together in a whole new way. HLM

Sources:, and