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Caring for a parent

Seeing a parent struggle in later life is always difficult. You instinctively want to help, but it can be hard to know where to start.

It's important to open up conversations around plans for the future. There are lots of ways to keep living independently for longer, such as equipping the home (i.e. technology, handrails) or arranging alternative living arrangements.

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We can find ourselves gradually taking on more and more responsibility. It can start with small jobs – helping with the garden, doing their shopping - and over time it becomes more intensive. Adjusting to these changing roles can be a big emotional step for you and your parent. It can be especially difficult if personal or intimate care is needed, or if you live a distance away from your parent and can’t get over to see them often. There can be so many practical things to consider – such as when to get professional help. It’s also important not to overlook your own interests like your job, family, friends, and maintaining a social life.

"Throughout my life Mum's been there to look after me; even after I got married she was around to help me and support us. Now the tables have turned and it's my turn to look after her."

Don’t delay – talk now

Avoid putting off these conversations until there’s a crisis; if you act now, you can avoid making life-changing decisions under pressure. In addition, your relative may no longer have the ability to express their wishes if they have lost mental capacity. Find out more about this here.

"If I could start this journey again, I would have tried to find out more and much earlier. I would have considered that he might have other problems as he got older, just like anyone else, and not just dementia. Perhaps this would have made me better prepared for the decision I had to make about his care."

If you have siblings, it’s also worth discussing together how you could share the caring responsibilities between you.

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How to broach the subject

It can be really difficult to know how and when to start the conversation, so we have put together some tips to make it a little easier:

  • Try to talk one-to-one when possible so they don’t feel overwhelmed
  • Having face-to-face conversations allows you to show your support with body language and eye contact
  • If you need an ice-breaker, making a cup of tea is always a good start
  • Bring up examples of other people’s similar situations to open up the conversation
  • Share your thoughts on what your own preferences on maintaining independence would be
  • Be aware of the language you use; make suggestions rather than dictating and ensure it’s a two-way conversation so that they feel listened to

"Communicating exactly what you want of people can be helpful – leaving nothing to chance. It also applies to shouting the loudest to get support from professionals.

"Often things that I thought were obvious and self-explanatory were far from obvious to others. If you’ve really made it crystal clear what you want, then it’s hard for someone to say they didn’t understand. Often that means facing difficult conversations head on and not beating around the bush."

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More ideas

Why not visit the Carers UK forum - our friendly online support community for carers. The forum is available 24/7 and you can get instant access when you join Carers UK - membership is free.

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