Resources for Children of Parents with Deteriorating Health  

No matter your age, watching a parent face health-related challenges is difficult. Helping parents with deteriorating physical health and cognitive function can be physically and mentally taxing for their children. Luckily there are resources to help you learn how to care for the personal and financial needs of an aging parent. 

Understanding the Challenges That Come with Aging Parents

There are many challenges that come with aging parents. It is difficult to watch parents slow down, become ill, and require more assistance with tasks they never used to need support for. The role reversal is often very evident and is not always easy to manage.

Some people become caregivers to their parents, whether they support obtaining help or they provide care directly. Many fall into the range of the sandwich generation. That is the period of time in which a person is in their 40s and 50s with younger children but also have parents over the age of 65 who are also demanding more help and support.

The World Health Organization provides insight into some of the most common changes parents face as they get older. Some common health conditions include:

  • Changes to eyesight, including cataracts and refractive errors
  • Hearing loss
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Diabetes
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Back, neck, hip, and knee pain
  • Depression and other mental health disorders
  • Dementia and cognitive decline

In addition, many parents will experience complex health matters referred to as geriatric syndrome. This could include factors that increase the risk of falling, the development of pressure ulcers, urinary incontinence, and even frailty.

More so, as parents get older, they may need help handling various tasks, such as paying the bills, managing money, going to the grocery store, and preparing meals. Depending on how health and cognitive change impacts them as they get older, caregivers often have to provide a much higher level of support.

Strategies for Coping When a Parent is Dying

As a person, not just a caregiver, recognize the importance of maintaining your own mental health and physical needs as you watch your loved one get older. That is not always simple to do when you are faced with numerous tasks that need to be done on a constant basis to support your aging parent and your children and perhaps even maintain a career.

The mental fatigue that comes from coping with a parent who is getting older, becoming ill, and facing challenges is one thing. When that parent is older and is dying, it becomes even more challenging. Consider these strategies.

Validate How You Are Feeling

Avoid pushing your thoughts and feelings away because you are “too busy” to deal with them. Realize that your feelings are real and acceptable, including feelings of:

  • Anger
  • Confusion
  • Disbelief
  • Guilt
  • Shock and emotional numbness
  • Physical pain
  • Hopelessness
  • Mental health illness onset, including depression, anxiety, and thoughts of suicide
  • Relief they are no longer suffering

It is okay to realize this event will change you and that it will mean your life is different. While it may not seem okay to say it, recognizing that “I can’t do it without her” and similar statements are often very real and valid expressions of the way you may be feeling.

Prepare Emotionally for What Is To Come

This often means taking the time to talk to your loved one about all of the things you wish you had said. It also means talking about the past, reminiscing, and getting a new perspective on their past. You may want to use this time to record statements you can play back later.

Know When to Get Help

If you are finding it difficult to manage this process, make sure you reach out for help. There is no book to follow that outlines what you should do to get your loved one through this process. Yet, there are supporting resources available to help you, as the caregiver, to manage the changes you are facing.

How to Explain Aging Parents to Teenagers and Kids

Speaking to your teen and younger children about the aging process is not simple. They are just starting on their path in life, and burdening them with the difficulties their grandparents are facing may seem like it is limiting. However, death and dying are a part of life, and as a result, being open and honest with your children regarding what they could expect to happen is vital.

There are several things parents can do to help their children to work through this process.

  • Be honest and give advice that is right for their age. If the child is younger, they may not understand the detailed medical events occurring, but older teens may. Provide honest information about what is occurring, and do not mislead them into believing all will be the same.
  • Listen to them speak. Allow your children to express their feelings about what is occurring, including feelings of pain, fear, anger, and frustration. The better they communicate this, the more likely they are to be able to work through those emotions.
  • Talk about why adults may be crying. Sometimes it’s hard for a young child to see his or her parent cry, yet that is likely to happen during these situations. For that reason, it helps to explain to a child, honestly, that they will miss their parent or that the adult is sad about what is occurring.
  • Educate them on the grief process. Be sure your child understands what grief is and why it happens. Talk about how normal it is to feel like this and that feeling very sad is normal. Be sure they also know they are not alone and can talk to you.
  • Talk about the family’s beliefs. If the family believes in the afterlife, share those views. If they do not, honor their wishes by not sharing that type of information.

Most importantly, be sure to consistently monitor your children for what they may not be able to express. It is very common for children to face the inability to express the pain they have, even in these difficult situations. Yet, being there and keeping them from being alone is often critical.

Communicating with Aging Parents

A big part of being a caregiver is meeting your parents’ specific needs as they get older. To do that, you often need to communicate with them. Some people may not want to talk about what is occurring. Some may be in denial. Oftentimes, they just do not know the answers to your questions or what their wishes really are.

Consider some strategies to help you to open the lines of communication more fully to ensure that your parents can share as much information as possible with you.

  • Start talking about things early. It may not seem logical to talk about death and dying to a healthy parent, but this is the ideal time to put in place plans to support their needs. The sooner you have this conversation, the better.
  • Ensure they are not facing stress. Choose the conditions of the moment that are most likely to lead to a good conversation. Bringing up complicated questions when someone is stressed and facing challenges with their health isn’t ideal. Wait until the mood is right.
  • Avoid pressuring them. Many people need time to think and process information before they can make big decisions. Avoid pressuring them or putting any type of time limit on them.
  • Really listen to what they are saying. Sometimes it helps to really break away from just getting done with the day’s work and focus on what they are saying. Perhaps they are missing a loved one. They may be telling you they need help without actually saying that directly.
  • Lead with empathy. Make statements that allow you to show that you care, like “I know this is so hard…” That helps them to know you’re trying your best.

Resources for End of Life Planning

Utilizing resources to plan for end-of-life is a wise decision to make as early as possible, as that provides your parents with more ability to make their own decisions based on their beliefs and wishes. The following resources may prove to be valuable tools to support this process.

Local religious organizations important to the individual or their family

Utilizing the support of religious organizations can prove to be valuable for many people.

Senior Connection

This organization provides a range of resources, including helpful videos that can offer help to caregivers and seniors in managing the death and dying process. Senior Connection is a component of the Central Massachusetts Agency on Aging, Inc.

Respecting Choices

This is an internationally recognized organization that was put in place in 2000 to address the need and benefits of advanced care planning. Respecting Choices is an evidence-based program aimed at helping individuals through the planning stages and providing person-centered care.

American Bar Association Commission on Law and Aging

Death and dying come with legal implications. The Health Care Proxies/Agents: Making Decisions for Someone Else: A How To Guide is a resource that helps individuals who are caregivers to better understand their roles and rights.

National Institute on Aging

The National Institute on Aging offers a range of advanced care planning tools and resources on its website as well as can provide support over the phone or by email from its information centers. They offer a range of checklists and steps to take for those who are getting started on this path.

Institute for Healthcare Improvement

The Institute for Healthcare Improvement offers The Conversation Project, a program dedicated to helping people to speak specifically about their wishes for their end of life. This is an initiative that is available in each state that enables people to communicate those end of life issues with their family and others. Topics here include:

  • Choosing a healthcare proxy
  • Being a healthcare proxy
  • Talking to a healthcare team
  • Caregiving for those who have Alzheimer’s and dimension
  • What Matters to Me Workbook

American Psychological Association

The American Psychological Association offers a wide range of guides and resources on their website for end of life issues and care. This includes tools for establishing palliative care, culturally diverse communities and their needs, and finding meaning in death.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services provides a range of resources to support caregivers, including through its MedlinePlus tools. Areas of focus include Medicare, Alzheimer’s, and addiction help.


To support the needs of patients as they get older, Medicare offers resources to support caregivers and patients alike. This includes help finding doctors, clinics, hospitals, long-term care hospitals, and more.

Resources for Stress and Mental Health Management

Caregivers face a constant battle to meet the needs of their parents. It is never simplistic to be able to tackle the needs of that person while also continuing to meet your own personal needs. This often leads to high stress levels and taxes on mental health. However, there are some resources that may be available to help facilitate a better level of healing and health. Consider these resources for stress and mental health management for caregivers.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services offers, which includes everything from clinical study information to life with dementia tools. It also offers resources on communication, healthy and active lifestyle, and planning for the future geared towards caregivers.


MyHealthFinder is a tool provided to support caregivers who need help managing the ups and downs of providing care. It also offers resources on managing the stress that caregiving creates and how to overcome the health complications this often leads to.

Anxiety and Depression Association of America

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America provides a range of tools and resources to support the needs of caregivers specifically. This includes access to one-on-one peer communities and ADAA resources.

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