Caring for Your Aging Parents: A Seven-Step Guide

Caring for aging parents can be draining, but knowing where everyone stands and having critical things in place can at least make the process less stressful.

An adult daughter hugs her aging father while helping him with something on a computer at the kitchen table.
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Aging certainly is part of the circle of life. If we are all fortunate, someday we can repay the favor of our parents caring for us, by caring for them. It is a time in one’s life that does not come easy and should be handled with the utmost care. In my line of work, I witness the tolls and stress caring for an aging parent can have on both the child and the parent. Albeit, no easy task, there are certainly best practices developed by many elder care experts I thought appropriate to share with you here today.

Below is a seven-step guide that is practical and easy to follow for caring for an aging parent (or family member):

1. Assess their needs.

Start by understanding your parents’ specific needs across all facets of their lives. This should span from family support, home safety, medical requirements, cognitive health, mobility, personal care, meal prep, social interaction and exercise. It is important during this stage that you properly evaluate what current support there is in these areas and where additional support/resources are necessary.

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2. Consider your capacity.

Although we all want to be able to help our most precious loved ones, it is important to do some self-assessment of your actual capacity to do so. You should assess your own health, proximity, living preferences and relationship quality with your significant other. 

Being able to acknowledge when you are not the appropriate caregiver is just as important as acknowledging when you are the right person. This should allow you to understand where you may need some help and where you might not.

3. Involve your parents.

It is an important step to not make decisions in a vacuum. You should absolutely, assuming they’re able, include your parents in these discussions. It is safe to say they are likely to have some opinions on the who, what and where of their aging needs. I’d also add in here to include your immediate family as well, since, as they say, it will take a village.

4. Understand their finances.

Bet you didn’t see this one coming?! Elder care can be not only physically and mentally draining, but it can also be financially draining. Before curating a care plan, it is important to understand the financial landscape. The questions to be asked are what kind of care do you anticipate your parents needing? What are the estimated future costs of their needs? What do their current finances look like? Is anyone in your family going to assist financially if needed?

Answering these questions can help you assess the financial needs and, thus, understand what the optionality is for care. I’d also highly suggest involving your, or their, financial experts to help assist in this process.

5. Ensure their home safety.

Remember how I mentioned life comes full circle? Bet you remember baby-proofing your home once upon a time so your little ones wouldn’t smash their little heads. Well, full circle, here we come. You will want to “parent-proof” your parents’ home to prevent accidents.

This can entail home modifications, decluttering, installing grab bars, improving lighting and making general accessibility enhancements where needed. This is an important step and one that can enable your loved ones the dignity to stay in their own home for as long as possible.

6. Facilitate communication.

Regardless of your ability to physically care for your loved ones, every one of us can help with a communication plan. This cuts two ways. For starters, you’ll want to make sure your parents have the appropriate accessible communication devices to reach out in times of need.

Additionally, you can help by combatting loneliness. Just because you are super busy every day, doesn’t mean your aging parent is as well. Take time regularly to reach out and check in on these special people. It is the easiest thing to do and likely will go the longest to preserving dignity for all.

7. Explore care options.

The final stage is to fully understand what care options are available. You can take this on yourself or utilize a professional geriatric care manager. You or they can help assess what in-home options or assisted living options are available based on preferences, needs and finances.

Even if you’re not ready to utilize the options today, it is important to know where you are going to turn if/when the comes.

If you follow these seven easy steps, you’ll at least have a good start on handling this difficult time in your lives with dignity. There are plenty of professionals who can help along the way, so take a deep look in the mirror when considering what you are capable of and what you are not. Use help, involve your family and handle it with care. Sending love to all, and stay wealthy, healthy and happy.

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This article was written by and presents the views of our contributing adviser, not the Kiplinger editorial staff. You can check adviser records with the SEC or with FINRA.

Andrew Rosen, CFP®, CEP
President, Partner and Financial Adviser, Diversified, LLC

In March 2010, Andrew Rosen joined Diversified, bringing with him nine years of financial industry experience.  As a financial planner, Andrew forges lifelong relationships with clients, coaching them through all stages of life. He has obtained his Series 6, 7 and 63, along with property/casualty and health/life insurance licenses.