Focus on the Family

Caring for Ill or Aging Parents

by Carol Heffernan

Caring for an aging parent is a responsibility few people ever expect or envision. We avoid thinking about our parents falling ill or growing weak. We don't feel equipped to handle the welfare of those who raised us. Confusion, sadness, helplessness jar us during this unsettling transition.

As baby boomers live longer, healthier lives, any assistance that is required typically becomes the children's responsibility. For many families, the discussion about who will take care of Mom and Dad comes on the heels of a crisis. As a result, most families find themselves unprepared to handle their parents' increased dependency.

Still, with the increase in number of older adults comes the increase of adult children caring for their parents. More than 20 million in the U.S. alone provide care for an aging parent or in-law. What's more, families rather than institutions provide 80 percent of long-term care.

So how can adult children, siblings and parents deal with the inevitable challenges that accompany this life transition?

Begin by openly discussing each person's role and responsibilities within the family structure. While caregiving can be extremely stressful, sharing duties is a guaranteed way to ease the tension. Whatever distance family members live from one another, devise a care plan so everyone can be involved.

Addressing the sensitive topic of finances is also a must, as is compiling important personal and financial documents. Finally, take the time to evaluate how to build unity among siblings—in spite of the high potential for tension.

There's no question that many caregivers only find frustration and exhaustion. But with solid support and communication, caring for an aging parent can bring a renewed sense of love, compassion and tenderness into any family.