Giving Care: Senior & Disabled Caregiver Resource Blog

How to Help Aging Parents Without Overstepping Boundaries

a group Portrait of a Happy multigenerational family sitting on a sofa
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By vichie81 / Shutterstock.com

Helping your aging parents just enough, but not too much, can make it tough to strike a balance that preserves your relationship and their independence as much as possible. If you’re not sure what to do, here are six ways to help aging parents without overstepping boundaries:

Know their relationship styles.

Not all parents have the same relationship with their adult children. Some seniors will push away any offer of help and insist on living alone even when it is no longer safe or feasible for them to do so. Others will become extremely clingy and expect their adult children to act as their on-call personal assistants 24/7, even if they are perfectly capable of still taking care of themselves. Knowing which way your parents tend to act will help you know how to best approach them and what to do. Keep in mind that one parent may lean towards one end of the spectrum while the other falls towards the other, so it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach.

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Set healthy boundaries.

Knowing your parents’ emotional tendencies will help you set boundaries appropriately. For example, if your aging parents tend to be very clingy and demanding, then you might need to set a boundary such as no calls during work hours or in the middle of the night unless it’s a true emergency. If your parents always ignore your offers to come by, then you might need to mandate a weekly check-in so you can confirm they’re doing okay. Setting healthy boundaries can be hard, but it will help you both maintain positive relationships over the long-term.

an elderly woman in a dressing gown sitting with her daughter.
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By Erickson Stock / Shutterstock.com

Help them maintain independence.

There are many small changes that you can make to help your parents age in place and maintain independence as they get older. For instance, women’s and men’s adaptive clothing make it possible for people with arthritis in their hands to keep dressing themselves even after traditional closures such as buttons become impossible to operate. Grab bars and shower chairs make it safe to use the bathroom on their own. Making changes such as this will help them to feel independent for as long as possible.

Let them take the lead when possible.

Often, it feels easier to simply do things for your parents instead of letting them take the lead. While this may feel more convenient for you, it can be a huge blow to their self-esteem (and it will also encourage clingy parents to ask for even more help). Whenever possible, let your parents take the lead to help keep their skills sharp. If they express frustration with a task, gently ask if they need help with part of it and offer your assistance. They may refuse, but at least then they know that you are willing to help.

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By VGstockstudio / Shutterstock.com

Watch out for warning signs.

If your parents are very independent, then it’s highly likely they will steadfastly refuse help even when they need it. It can also be hard for older adults to understand just how much their function is declining, especially if they have dementia. If they live alone, check in on them regularly and look out for warning signs such as overdue bills and a lack of cleanliness or personal grooming. You may wish to look into getting them a medical alert system to help keep them safe when they’re at home alone.

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Don’t give more than you can.

If and when your parents get to the point where they need significant or even full-time care, be honest with yourself about how much help you can give, especially considering your other commitments such as a job and kids. If you can afford to hire help, your parents might actually be more willing to accept assistance from a third-party caregiver than from their own kids. Even just getting a maid service once a week or a part-time caregiver on a couple of days can make a big difference in their quality of life.

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