Planning the Care of Your Aging Parents

If your parents are in their golden years, keep in mind that even gold can lose some of its glow with the inevitable effects of old age. Sooner or later, older loved ones will need assistance.

Advance planning

  • Make sure legal documents have been drawn up, including an up-to-date will, a durable power of attorney, a living will, and a health-care proxy.

  • Research the housing options and services available in your parents' community.

  • Discuss with your loved ones how you can help with their future housing, financial, and medical-care needs.

  • Ask them about growing old.

When it's time to act

One day, all the signs may point to the need for you to actively step in to assist your parents. These are some of the telltale signs:

  • Your loved ones start losing weight.

  • They stop washing their hair or clothing, or otherwise ignore personal hygiene.  

  • They exhibit a change in behavior. 

  • They no longer do things that they used to find pleasurable, or they leave the house less often. 

  • They drink more alcohol.

  • They leave piles of unpaid bills on their desk, or they otherwise mishandle finances. 

  • They let food grow moldy in the refrigerator, or they leave their home unkempt in other ways. 

  • They start walking unsteadily.

Important first steps

Immediately open a line of communication with your parents' doctors so you can discuss your concerns. Even if you live far away, you can get contact information for your parents' care providers and other local resources. Identify local resources that can help your parents, such as area agencies on aging, aging and disability resource centers, or aging information and referral services. 

Defining your limits

Many adult children find their first steps into caregiving responsibilities are like walking into quicksand. If you don't manage your time well or haven't planned in advance, you can become mired in never-ending obligations, such as daily chores and care, handling legal or financial issues, or lining up health care providers.

  • Decide what you can reasonably do to help, then stick with that plan. If you decide you'll visit your mother twice per week, help her manage her finances, and investigate local resources, then that's what you should do. Get help for other needs as they arise.

  • Accept help early on — from relatives, friends, neighbors, churches and synagogues, senior centers, or home-care agencies.

  • Take care of yourself. Get exercise, get enough sleep, pay attention to your diet, and go to support-group meetings for caregivers.