Helping to Care for Aging Parents

by Raynia Sauvageau MSW, RSW

When it comes to helping aging parents, many feel they are ill-prepared for this part of life. As children, we looked up to our parents to care for us, protect us, and eventually help launch us. Many of us go on to marry, have our own families and set up the same pattern of caring for our children. We are not expecting that our parents will age and possibly that we will be the ones to provide care as they once did for us.

parentsSome people say that the roles “reverse” ; that as your parents once parented you, you are now “parenting” your parent. This conception however is not entirely accurate. The reason being, is that while our parents may be losing some of their independence, whether mentally or physically, they are still and always will be our parent. Even though they may have “lost” some of their abilities to do certain things, or may have increasing challenges, they are still the driver of their decisions as long as their capacity for that is intact.

One of the frequent questions I have been asked is “How do I help my aging parents?” and the answer will greatly depend on the individual situation. The following is a good place to start:

  • Engage in a dialogue about their wishes. This may seem small but this is a critical step. Too often, I have observed that discussions do not take place until after a crisis happens and adult children are left having to guess or make decisions on what they think their parent may want. This includes asking your parents how they envision “the next five years”, helping to map out a plan for modifying the home if needed or any possible transition from their home, and ensuring that Powers of Attorney for Personal care and Property exist. These conversations are not always easy, particularly given the different relationships and dynamics of your relationship but they are important ones to have.
  • Define “help” by how your parents define it. In an effort to help our parents, sometimes our own worries and needs obstruct our abilities to help in a way that is meaningful to our parents. I have often observed very well intentioned adult children making plans and providing assistance that their parents feel they don’t need. To avoid this, you might want to ask your parent directly what they would find helpful.
  • Get Informed. Whether or not your parents are ready or at the stage of accepting help, it doesn’t stop you from knowing what is available in their community and in the market. With the increasing aging population, there are many services and products available to help people stay independent. There are also programs available from local agencies. These may include someone to come to the home to help with bathing, personal care, cleaning, meal preparation or transportation. Keeping informed of what exists helps you in knowing what is available to your parents and can be introduced to them when they are willing.
  • Accepting help is a process not an outcome. If you can shift your focus from “what” to “how” it happens, you may be pleasantly surprised. Some adult children become frustrated when they are met with rejection when offering to help their parents. Sometimes however, it takes time before your parent is “ready” to accept the help and so remaining patient and involved through this process is key.

Helping your parents, while not a part of the lifecycle that was necessarily planned, can be a positive experience with the proper help and support around you.

Raynia Sauvageau has a private practice as a Geriatric Social Work Consultant and has a strong passion for working with aging families and assisting them through transitions and experiences. She has spent most of her career working in acute care hospitals as a professional social worker with aging patients and their families. To find out more, you can visit her website at or reach her directly at