Taking Care of Parents: 10 Things Adult Children Caregivers Must Know

Taking care of parents is an unexpected role for adult children. Young adults may be attending college, considering marriage, or building a career. Mid-life adults may be raising children and committed to career advancement. Adults in their pre-retirement years may be sending children off to college, enjoying grandchildren, or planning for retirement.

Adult children of all ages are involved in taking care of their parents. When caregiving arises—knowledge is limited to the things that happen during each stage of caring for parents—fear, frustration, guilt, and stress may be common feelings.

These 10 tips from caregiving expert, Pamela D. Wilson, give adult children must know to avoid regrets and surprises about being a caregiver.

1 Helping Aging Parents Means that You Are a Caregiver

Helping parents, grandparents, or other aging family members begins with small tasks like grocery shopping or running errands. Adult children who help with these types of tasks rarely call themselves by the word “caregiver.”

Why? Because the word caregiver usually means a person who looks after a child, a sick, elderly, or disabled person. When parents are generally healthy and need help here and there, adult children don’t view the support provided as “care or looking after”—instead, adult children see themselves as helping out a parent now and then.

Why Discussions About Care Needs Don’t Happen

The sooner that an adult child realizes that he or she is a caregiver, the sooner that discussions about helping with tasks (known as care) and the future needs for assistance by elderly parents should happen. Lack of these discussions is the main reason adult children eventually feel overwhelmed by the task and time commitment of taking care of parents.

Because the role of caregiving is unknown or similar to participating in on-the-job training without a manual, children don’t know the importance of having these discussions. Aging parents—who may have had experience caring for their elderly parents—may not feel comfortable starting the conversation for various reasons.

Aging parents may feel that they can manage their health, at least in the near term. Hesitation may exist because talking about declining health and death are unpopular topics. Spouses may desire to shelter children from caregiving responsibilities for as long as possible—or feel they can manage.

This lack of knowing the importance of having discussions or the desire to confront the future is the first in a long series of omissions resulting in surprises and regret for adult children caregivers. As a caregiver, what you don’t know you don’t know about the stages of caregiving is sure to result in unexpected complications when discussions about what you can and can’t do occur.

Learn More About Care Discussions and the Importance of Setting Boundaries with Elderly Parents

Adult children

2 Caregivers May Change Plans About Attending College

Caregivers in their 20’s and 30’s who are taking care of parents in their 50’s or 60’s or grandparents may change their plans about attending college. Millennial caregivers are more likely to live with parents or grandparents or invite parents or grandparents who need help to live with them. Multi-generational households can be beneficial for care situations.

Millennials working and attending college or raising children can receive support from parents living in the same home who are retired or not employed. The pressures of being a young adult, coupled with advancing caregiving responsibilities, can profoundly affect education, career, and raising a family.

Baby boomers are more likely than other generations to be single or divorced, relying on their children instead of spouses to be the primary caregivers. The added responsibility of caregiving and the time, up to 20 hours a week, rob young adults of making choices to attend college, focus on a career or marry.

Loneliness and Isolation

Becoming a caregiver at a young age often results in feeling more isolated and alone. Activities 20 and 30-somethings would generally be doing are traded for the time in a caregiving role. As a result, responsible caregivers and their more carefree peers have little in common. Adult children in caregiving roles experience chronic stress and illness at earlier ages than their non-caregiving peers.

Parents who need care suffer similar feelings of loneliness and isolation. Health concerns may result in challenges in managing medical conditions and remaining physically active.

When Caregiving Responsibilities Occur at Early Ages Caregivers May Say Caregiving Ruined My Life

Taking care of parents

3 Focusing on a Career May Be Difficult

Adult children of all ages taking care of parents may find juggling work and caregiving to be a precarious balance between doing enough to keep a job and performing below standards. Working caregivers face the struggle of working and taking time off to attend medical appointments with their parents.

Few workplaces offer eldercare support resulting in caregivers who lose their jobs for performance issues or choose to quit a position to care for parents. The long-term effects of leaving the workplace, especially for women, can be financially disastrous.

Workplaces that fail to acknowledge employees caring for parents can unintentionally favor family care situations that support children and discriminate against employees caring for parents. Speaking to human resource departments and supervisors about elder care needs allows employees to balance keeping a job and leaving employment.

For More On This Topic, Check Out How to Keep a Job and Care for Elderly Parents

Caring for parents

4 Being A Caregiver Negatively Affects Income and Retirement Savings

Society rarely talks about caregiving’s effect on an individual’s ability to work, pursue a career, and save money. In this aspect, women who have children, care for parents, and an aging spouse are more severely affected.

In marriages, the man—who is usually the primary income earner—controls the money. The means that men, more than women, meet with financial planners.

While income may be set aside for retirement, little thought is given to setting up separate retirement accounts for a wife or to making a plan for a wife’s health care needs independent of a husband. Why? Like talking about future care needs for parents, taking care of women who give up years of their lives to be family caregivers is an uncomfortable subject.

For More on the Subject of Women, Caregiving, and Money, See What to Do When Work and Caregiving Collide

5 Becoming Educated About Health is Critical When Taking Care of Parents

The U.S. is not a preventative society relative to health and aging. Medical systems and insurance companies pay to treat—not prevent—illness. The healthcare system is a money-making machine that benefits from treating sick people.

For the elderly population, who did not take steps to become educated about health and prevention, turning back the clock is impossible. These individuals depend on spouses, adult children, and other family members for their care.

What Caregivers Can Learn When Caring for  Parents

Caregivers who pay attention to the mental and physical challenges that parents face have a significant opportunity to change the impact that health can have on their lives. Attending medical appointments, taking an interest in health diagnosis, medications, and learning about the consequences of daily habits offer unique insights.

Rarely mentioned by physicians is the interaction of one chronic disease with the next. Heart disease interacts with the circulatory and neurological systems and results in potential strokes or a diagnosis of dementia. The connection between dehydration, urinary tract infections, and delirium in the elderly. The importance of nutrition to avoid malnutrition and failure to thrive in older adults.

Caregivers who go through the motions of taking parents to medical appointments but who do not ask questions and discuss consequences lose the opportunity to change the future of their health. Admittedly, caregiving stress results in many destructive behaviors due to caregivers ignoring self-care and retreating to substance abuse or other unhealthy habits.

I’m So Tired of Being a Caregiver Offers Insights on Caregiver Exhaustion and the Consequences of Health Habits

Tired of caring for parents

6 Being A Caregiver Will Test All of Your Skills

The role of caregiving involves every skill that a caregiver has and more.

  • Communication skills with parents, family members, and the healthcare system
  • Empathy to understand the experience of parents
  • Unlimited patience to manage work, family, and personal situations
  • Teamwork to ensure that the caregiver, parents, and anyone else involved in care are moving in the same direction with the same expectations
  • Critical thinking skills to evaluate information and stay two steps ahead to minimize unexpected problems
  • A keen eye and attention to notice the little things that can cause significant issues
  • Self-esteem and confidence to manage uncertain situations
  • Advocacy and determination to stand up for the care of elderly parents when others say, “it isn’t possible.”
  • Time management and organizational skills to avoid becoming a 24/7 caregiver
  • Insight to realize that a single caregiver can’t do it all and needs help
  • Humility to admit being a caregiver is one of the most difficult roles that a person can accept
  • Bottomless self-love to keep going on the days when giving up seems easier than carrying on
  • Perseverance and grit to manage when things go wrong
  • Initiative and motivation to pick up the pieces and rebuild a life after being a caregiver

More Information About Noticing the Little Things Can Be Found at Warning Signs for Helping Elderly Parents.

7 Family Relationships Aren’t Perfect

When taking care of parents becomes a responsibility in families, differences between children and parents can grow.  One child, usually a female, becomes the primary caregiver who may support a mother caring for a father. In situations where only a single parent exists, a daughter is usually the caregiver.

Siblings can be helpful or avoid the opportunity to support care situations. The son or daughter nearest to a parent bears the majority of care responsibilities when families are scattered in different areas of the country. In this case, the primary caregiver has many similarities to younger caregivers who give up their lives caring for parents.

Caregivers sacrifice time with children, spouses and may give up a job.  These actions are taken out of a sense of loyalty, duty, and responsibility, with little insight into the long-term effects that cannot be reversed.

Not Everyone Can Be a Caregiver

Caregiving isn’t for everyone. When children live at a distance, it’s easier to continue to go on with life by not being confronted each day with the fact that a parent can’t physically get out of bed or remember to take medications. Out of mind—out of sight.

It’s important for the primary caregiver to avoid judging siblings or others who fail to show up and help. By limiting contact with family members who criticize but don’t become involved, the primary caregiver can avoid emotionally escalating and non-productive situations.

The burden of caregiving can be suffocating. Primary caregivers can feel stuck with no options or choices to change care situations when support is missing.

Caregiving support groups, online courses, and in-person group meetings help caregivers feel that they are not alone. Knowing that someone somewhere understands the day-to-day life of a caregiver can reduce the loneliness and isolation that caregivers experience. Besides learning new skills and the “what can happen” in caregiving situations, caregivers can increase confidence and self-esteem.

For More on the A-Z of Caregiving Learn More About Pamela’s Online Caregiver Course: Taking Care of Elderly Parents: Stay at Home and Beyond

Taking Care of Parents

8 Coordinating Care Can Be a Full-Time Job

As parents’ health declines, coordinating care can become a full-time job in addition to a regular full-time job. Recognizing this earlier in a care situation can reinforce the idea of initiating family discussions about the stages of caregiving and the acceleration of needs.

Hands-on care like bathing and dressing, managing medications, coordinating doctor appointments, and watching for health changes are all-consuming activities. A caregiver can’t know what to expect or be expected to manage everything without help and support.

Hiring in-home caregivers, a care manager, and accessing other community support programs can help caregivers manage. Investigating options long before a need and identifying whether money is available to pay for services can help caregivers create a plan for changing care situations in advance.

This learning is another opportunity for caregivers to realize that they may be the care receiver one day. Coordinating care for elderly parents is a lesson in what to do and what not to do and learn how to plan for the future of potentially needing care.

9 The Medical System Isn’t Perfect

Working with healthcare providers can feel like more work is added for little return if caregivers don’t fully manage care needs. Managing care is less complicated when the primary caregiver also serves in the role of a medical or financial power of attorney and knows the responsibilities of this role.

Options exist today for in-person medical appointments and virtual appointments. A phone call by a caregiver to a doctor’s office can reduce the potential of taking a parent to the hospital emergency room. Acting as a legally responsible party can increase the ease of access to medical care.

The Benefits of Being Detail-Oriented and Fact-Based

Caregivers who are detail-oriented and fact-based fare better when working with medical providers. Doctors are only as good as the information they receive.

Elderly parents who may not have followed through with care recommendations may be considered as problem patients. In these cases, the caregiver has to make an extra effort to communicate with doctors so that a parent may receive needed care.

Errors with medical offices in prescribing medications, ordering tests, and incorrectly submitting insurance claims cost caregivers more time and effort. The detail, communication skills, and finesse to get needed care and attention from the healthcare system can feel burdensome, especially when parents have complex healthcare needs.

As the care needs of parents advances, contact, and communication with the healthcare system increases. For this reason, it’s essential to be realistic about the level of participation in health by elderly parents and what can be expected from health situations.

10 Talking Prognosis

Doctors don’t want to give bad news unless absolutely necessary. If the primary caregiver or family members don’t ask about a parent’s health, important information can be missed or omitted.

Asking a doctor about the prognosis of an elderly parent is the best way to know what the future might hold. This means the caregiver MUST ask and learn about health conditions and the day-to-day effects.

Ask questions like what does a good day look like? How does one know if a condition is better or worse? What signs, like temperature, blood pressure, are important to monitor? Can one health condition affect another? What is palliative care? What is hospice?

Taking Care of Elderly Parents: Stay at Home and Beyond

Managing the day-to-day care needs of parents, working with the healthcare system, managing family disagreements, working with outside providers, and more are covered in the online webinar course Taking Care of Elderly Parents at Home. This online course can change the course of caring for parents and reduce stress for caregivers.

When caregivers learn the importance of discussing care needs and anticipate future needs, the stress of being a caregiver can feel more manageable. Aging parents also receive better care.

The online course for caregivers features video and podcast modules that can be accessed 24/7. Click below to learn more about the course.

Interested in Fast-Forwarding Your Learning to Make Caring for Loved Ones Easier? Click Here For More Information About the Online Webinar Course

©2022 Pamela D Wilson. All Rights Reserved





About Pamela Wilson

PAMELA D. WILSON, MS, BS/BA, NCG, CSA helps caregivers and aging adults solve caregiving problems and manage caregiving needs through online programs, live support groups, and an extensive caregiving library that includes articles, podcasts, videos, and webinars.

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