Getting older can be a very difficult process for your parents and comes with inevitable changes in their minds and their bodies. Forgetfulness, repeating the same questions, getting regularly lost while driving, keeping up with housework, and remembering to pay bills are common signs of aging.

Aging can also make some people more withdrawn, suspicious, or paranoid. When these situations surface adult children are increasingly confronted with questions of whether it is safe for their parent to continue driving or living alone.

This transition stage of aging is a time that many adult children will not have prepared for and is marked by elderly parents requiring the increased help of their children. To add to existing complications, this help is often not wanted and is interpreted as interfering, distrust, or an invasion of their privacy.

Many elderly parents battle to accept their limitations and feel your concern is unwarranted. But by the time you as the child notice these warning signs, your parents likely already need help. How do you help, perhaps even after previous attempts have been unsuccessful?

It is certainly not an easy task to become involved in, but through good advice, you will do more of what is helpful, and less of what is not.

Focus On the Facts to Check if Your Elderly Parents Need Help

It is important to be aware that your assumptions when starting can be incorrect or not as well formed as you think. Gather the information you need to help such as:

  • Signs that reveal there is a problem with memory and thinking
  • Having difficulty fulfilling the regular routines of life, and taking proper safety precautions
  • The signs that other family members and those exposed to your parents as they age are seeing
  • Any disturbing instances that indicate to you that you need to step in sooner rather than later

Putting in the effort to familiarize yourself with this information will give you and other family members a clear picture of your concerns and any existing problems. Should there be a time when treatment is required, medical professionals will benefit from the details as they diagnose the problem and recommend the type of support and safety measures needed.

Speak With Your Parents About It

When families discuss the situation with a parent who is getting older with the hope that they will understand and accept that help is needed, it is often well-intentioned, but the result is counter-productive and can easily lead to frustration and conflict.

One effective method is to approach these discussions to listen and help your parent feel heard. Do not try to provide solutions and solve problems as if your parent were a logistical challenge. By paying attention to what your parent is thinking and feeling as well as what their preferences are you can lot.

Knowing how your parents see the situation and what matters most to them, you are in a stronger position to invite them to make a change that you think will help them. This softens resistance and improves the chances of practical change. Many families are bonded closer during this time, putting them in a stronger position to face future challenges.

Find Out More About Medical and Care Assessments

Often the first step is having a medical evaluation completed on both or one of your elderly parents. It makes perfect sense to do so because the signs that you notice in your parents may be a result of a medical issue. Typical questions at this stage are focused on what is causing the symptoms that we notice, whether medications are having adverse effects, how can you best monitor the situation, and what happens next.

Memory and thinking skills queries can initially be asked of your parent’s regular doctor who can look for any underlying causes of cognitive impairment. Safety is another area that you should look to address and assist your parent with immediately, as well as the activities of everyday life that they struggle with. There are local community agencies that are willing to provide home safety assessments at no cost.

If you have questions about future housing and care needs, it will be useful to seek professional guidance. Professional social workers, geriatric care managers, and others with experience in caring for the elderly are often able to assist with developing a care plan for you and your elderly parents. In fact, in all my years as a professional geriatric social worker, every single individual I met with said they were so relieved to talk to someone who had the answers to their questions or at least point them in the right direction.

Brush Up on the Legal Requirements

If one or both of your parents have memory problems, questionable judgment, or their thinking skills are impaired, then it is useful to understand that they are a vulnerable adult. As a vulnerable adult, there are tools and resources available to navigate whether an aging person is considered incapacitated or medically incompetent. This is important if your parent ever must complete a power of attorney for healthcare or financial matters. This can give the family the ability to act on their behalf legally in various circumstances.

If there are signs that an individual can no longer comprehend the risks of any given situation, then it may be your responsibility to intervene from an ethical or legal point of view. Handling the legal paperwork for this early is helpful. By understanding the level of capacity your parents may have and identifying the potential risks, you can feel more in control of the situation. With this improved understanding, you will be better able to approach them and present more compelling reasons for them to make a change.

Put Together a Next-Steps Action Plan for Your Family

Working on a foundation informed by listening, observing, and learning you can start taking action. There is not only one way to help your parent who is aging.

Step 1. Look over your assessment of the situation. The thinking skills of your parents, safety issues, and everyday tasks they battle with as well as their and your family’s priorities are considerations.

Step 2. Brainstorm options by weighing what is needed to assume the next steps. What are the most urgent and prominent issues to address, and what is most feasible?

Step 3. Pick and plan a few points that will become the focus. If you have siblings that are not aware of the situation it is best to discuss it with them and act together in a coordinated manner.

For each issue plan specific action steps, which may include the focus of research such as medical or legal points. Next, appoint an action alongside these such as making a call, setting an appointment, touring a facility, or reviewing current medication. Further action may include identifying whom you need to have conversations with including your parents and siblings.

Get The Action Plan Rolling and Be Patient

Having completed these steps, you are in a far better position to help your parents.

Remember to focus on positive communication and be aware of the capacity constraints common to most families. As you move forward, evaluate your progress, make any adjustments required, and try again. As with most things in life, as you experiment you become better at finding out what works and what does not. Considering that you will be cooperating with several parties, including your parents, their doctor, and your siblings it will take some back-and-forth.

Remember that if roadblocks present themselves at any stage – such as if your parent refuses to go to the doctor – there are solutions. You can crowdsource ideas and advice from others in an online support group, talk to a counselor, and pray about a solution.

Consider the Progress

As you follow the plan and keep on going with it, the chances are dramatically improved that your parent will get more of the care they need, and you will be better placed to help them process and accept the changes required.

Should things not work out well despite your best efforts there are more options to consider such as adopting a watchful-waiting approach or finding out more about petitioning for guardianship.

As you and your family progress on this ongoing journey and adjust to this life stage, be encouraged by the difference you are making for your parents who are getting old. As you approach them with thoughtful care your parents will appreciate your presence and connection with them. Coming alongside them to help and being open to learning to do it in better ways shows you are doing the best you can to accompany them at this stage of their life.

Christian Counseling as You Love Your Parents Who Are Aging

If you are looking for additional help as your parents are aging, browse our online counselor directory or contact our office to find out how we can help you. We would be honored to walk with you on this journey. Remember to give yourself some grace as you try to help your parent or parents enter this stage of their life.

Photo credits: 
“Daily Walk,” courtesy of Dominik Lange,, CCO License; “Surprise,” courtesy of RDNE Stock Project,, CCO License; “Praying,” courtesy of Jane Zerabruk, all rights reserved; “Fun Times,” courtesy of Audrianne Giroud, all rights reserved.


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