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7 Tips for Only Children Providing Care for an Elderly Parent

When caring for an elderly parent, adult children typically work together to come up with a care plan. This teamwork is often a benefit as it builds confidence in the decision making for the path forward. But what can you do if you are an only child? Not only is there no one else to run ideas by, but there is also no one to share the workload with. About 20% of households have only one child, so this issue is not uncommon and you are not alone. In this article, we are going to provide 7 tips to manage caregiving for an elderly parent as an only child.

7 Tips for Only Children Caring for their Aging Parents

Caring for your aging parents is a daunting task even when you have the ability to split the workload with siblings. If you’re an only child, however, caring for your parents may seem even more cumbersome. This is especially true if you also have your own family and career to manage without a built-in person to turn to for help.

If that sounds like you, this article is here to help. Let’s explore 7 tips for caring for aging parents as an only child.

1. Plan Ahead

If you’re an only child, this situation may eventually apply to you. One of the best things you can do for this future version of yourself is to start the discussion about late-in-life care with your parents well before it is needed.

Start the conversation by saying something like, “I know this is far in the future, but have you thought about what we will do when you get older?”

It’s important to give your parents time to prepare for this eventuality financially, emotionally, and physically. You can talk to them in a way that is sensitive to their emotions but realistic to the fact that they are aging.

2. Be Prepared

As your parents age further, they may be tempted to brush you off and say things like, “I am in fine health. We don’t need to worry about this yet.” While it’s tempting to push it off for another day, you will only create a trickier situation for yourself when the time comes. Instead, come to the conversation prepared.

  • Ask them about a will - do they have one or plan to make one?

  • Ask them about their health - is there anything you should know?

  • Ask them about their retirement plans - have they thought about where and how they want to grow old?

  • Ask them about their wishes - get them to start thinking about advanced directives like a DNR or any other health directives they may want to have in place.

Specific questions can feel intrusive, but they’re useful for encouraging your parents to think more critically about the issues they may face as they age. Just remind yourself that it’s better to understand your parents’ wishes while they’re in a good mental state to communicate them than it is to make guesses when it’s too late.

3. Start Understanding the Services Available to You

There are many organizations, churches, community groups, volunteer organizations, national associations, state and federal grants, your local Area Agency on Aging, and more that are here to help caregivers. While you may not need specifics just yet, it’s a good idea to get a pulse on what options you have should you need them.

4. Ask for Help

If you’re already providing care as an only child to elderly parents, understand that it is OK and preferable that you ask for and receive help. You cannot do it all on your own. There are healthcare professionals and community agencies as mentioned above to help, and you may also have other family or friends that are willing to lend a hand. If you can’t think of someone to ask, you can also include your parents by asking who they would like to receive help from.

Note: Before you ask for help, be sure you have an idea of what tasks would most benefit you. If there’s a task you don’t have time for, exhausts you, or that you otherwise don’t enjoy, this is one of the best tasks to seek support for.

5. Set Boundaries

As an only child, the expectation (whether that expectation comes from your parents or is self-inflicted) may be that you need to handle every task and concern.

As new tasks or bills arise, they may expect you to continue adding to your plate.

Therefore, it’s important to set firm boundaries with your parents as soon as possible. In order to provide the best care possible for your parents, you need space and time to yourself to recuperate. You have your own physical, emotional, and financial needs that are equally valid. Set and reinforce firm limits and boundaries to what you can do.

6. Seek Respite

There are professional caregivers you may be able to hire on an hourly, daily, monthly, etc. basis to ease some of the pressure on you. Respite care can give you much needed breathing room in an intensive care situation. Seeking respite care options may be financially out of reach, in which case consider the community care and association options mentioned above.

7. Communicate Clearly

If something doesn’t feel right or is unclear, speak up.

For example, if the doctor provides a prescription or recommendation you’re unfamiliar with, it is perfectly OK to ask questions. Or, as your parents' primary caregiver, there may be tasks you are asked to complete that you’re unsure how to handle. The doctor may have made a mistake or may have room to explain something better to you.

It’s always better to ask questions and get answers than to get home and have to problem-solve on the spot. You are your parents' advocate.

As another example, if your parents are asking too much of you, it’s perfectly OK to let them know they are asking too much. Your parents, in all likelihood, are going to be happy to be spending time with you and may not realize the extent of the burden you are currently feeling.

Clear communication is always better than unspoken concerns that lead to resentment. You are also your own advocate.

Closing Thoughts

Caregiving as an only child to elderly parents is understandably an overwhelming prospect. By planning ahead, setting expectations and boundaries, and communicating clearly, you’ll make your job much easier. As a caregiver in Orange County, you are not alone.

We invite you to check out our library of information for family caregivers by clicking here for further reading and resources. You are also welcome to give us a call at 800-543-8312 to find out more about how we can support you on your caregiving journey.


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