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Helping My Aging Parent – Do’s and Don’ts

by Rhonda Scarbrough


I will never take for granted how greatly I’ve been blessed

For when it comes to grandparents, Girlfriend, you are the best!

You nurtured and protected me and taught me with great care

And every time I’ve needed you, you were always there.

Now it’s my turn to do for you what you’ve done for me

For you have been the wind beneath my wings.


Over the years my grandmother has always been very resilient and strong, doing everything for herself. She never wanted to relinquish her power even as the world changed in front of her eyes. She was born in the 1930’s and has managed to take care of herself independently for most of her 80+ years. Then one day, I noticed that she would repeat stories that she had just shared with me. I thought to myself, “Hmm that’s unusual.” But I didn’t correct her I just let her retell the story thinking that the details of that story must be pretty important to her. Now, a few years later I realize that my grandmother is a victim of aging and dementia. And requires much more of my attention to stay safe and healthy now. Many thoughts ran through my mind: Is she safe living alone in the big city that never sleeps? What if something happens and no one is there? I began to panic and express my concerns with my grandmother. BIG NO NO!!

Here are some Do’s and Don’ts that I learned through this process:

DON’T – PROJECT YOUR FEARS ONTO YOUR PARENT. Truth is you will not be able to handle the backlash when they let you know in no uncertain terms that they are fine and don’t need your help. Fear is a debilitating emotion. After you leave them, it could cause them to have spikes in their heart rate and blood pressure, which doesn’t help the situation any.

DO – CHECK IN WITH THEM REGULARLY. Take them out and on walks or for errands so that you can see for yourself if anything else is changing. Is it harder for them to hear you or see you? As we age, our senses start to diminish. Are they having a difficult time getting up and sitting down in chairs? Observe their walking ability. Do they require the use of a cane, walker, etc.? How is their personal hygiene? How kept are they/their home? Are they eating? Are they cooking? What is their diet like? Are they more cantankerous and short-tempered than usual? Have they lost a lot of weight?

DON’T – INTERROGATE THEM WHEN YOU TALK TO THEM. Parents are used to asking all the questions, they can get a bit defensive when they think you are trying to get in “their business.” They want to maintain their power so instead of asking a lot of questions at once, pace them out a bit. Another way to find out information is to do it through storytelling. Bring up a story, albeit fictitious, describing a friend’s mom or dad’s issue and ask their opinion about it. They probably will not pick up on what you’re doing (at least not the first time). This strategy will require some practice and constant adjustments.

DO – DEVELOP A RELATIONSHIP WITH YOUR PARENT’S NEIGHBORS, FRIENDS, AND PHYSICIANS. They will probably know more about your parent’s day-to-day condition than your mom/dad/grandparent is willing to share with you. Let them know that you are concerned about your parent’s health and safety. Bribe them if you need to – your goal is to get the information any way that you can, within reason, without alarming your parent. Check in with their doctors and friends to see if they noticed anything different happening with your parent to confirm or deny your suspicions.

DON’T – MAKE DRASTIC CHANGES TO THEIR LIVES WITHOUT THEIR INVOLVEMENT. If you do, it will only lead to resentment. Don’t let your good deeds be spoken evil of. You have great intentions. But they have rights too. It’s their life. And I know it is hard to watch them be unsafe or watch as their health declines. But, we still have to respect them, their wishes and help them in ways that will not sever the relationship or have them outwardly hating you. Be creative in getting their buy-in. In my case, it meant getting my grandmother’s doctor, whom she adores, to convince her that it was best to accept my help.

DO – BE PATIENT. You’ve got a long journey ahead of you. Your parent will have good days and not-so-good days. And if you get frustrated with them this early in the game, you will miss out on some really spectacular moments with them. Use this time to figure out ways to offer the best support to them that they feel is the most helpful.

DO – ASSESS YOUR PARENTS NEEDS AND DEVELOP A PLAN. You cannot do it all by yourself. As they age and their health starts diminishing, it’s like taking care of a baby that can fight you back, scream at you, and behave in a very difficult manner. Have a meeting with your family members – ALL of them, even the ones you think don’t have much value. The reality is this it takes a village to care for our loved ones. Someone will have to be the main decision maker for care to speak with doctors regularly, another to take them out on errands or cook for them, another that has a way of making everyone smile or laugh on those tough days, another who can validate or deny what you are seeing, and another who can provide you with a break so that you can exercise your own, self-care.

DON’T – TRY TO BE SUPERMAN OR SUPERWOMAN. You don’t have to go at it alone. Ask for help. There are a host of resources available to you.