How to become a caregiver for your aging parent

Are your elderly parents getting older and more in need of your assistance? At some point (perhaps recently), you’ve wondered how to become a caregiver who provides helpful care for your mom or dad.

To be a caregiver, you first need to be willing to create mental, emotional, and physical space in your life for your aging parent who needs you. This may involve living with them part-time or full-time, having them stay with you, prioritizing their health and adapting your lifestyle to meet their needs. It’s more a question of how to include your parents as one of your priorities while still maintaining a healthy balance with your other responsibilities.

“Loving Family Member” vs. “Professional Caregiver”

When considering how to become a caregiver, there’s an important distinction to make between family caregiving and professional caregiving.

As the daughter or son of an aging parent, you don’t “become” a caregiver per se — you are already a loving family member who inherently wants what’s best for your mom or dad. You want your parent to function, feel good, and be as healthy as possible. You also likely want them to be able to stay in their homes as long as they can.

On the other hand, professional caregivers have training requirements, background checks, and special training to become certified in providing health care services and senior care. They get paid to offer home services for the elderly not as a family member or loved one, but as someone who’s at work doing their job. This is not to say they don’t care — understanding compassionate elder care is essential.

Being a loving family caregiver is a personal choice that involves educating yourself, practicing empathy, and choosing selflessness perhaps more often than you have in the past.

In the circle of life, the roles have switched. Just as your parents nurtured, loved, and supported you throughout your younger years, now they need you to take on that role of nurturer and supporter.

And while you may not be a trained professional care provider, you can still learn how to address the precise needs of your aging parent as you grow into your role as a loving home health aide.

A Good Caregiver Knows Their Parent’s Specific Needs

How to become a caregiver: Eldery couple

If you want to become a primary caregiver for your parent, you’ll need to learn what sort of help they need from you. This all starts with a conversation with them and listening to what their needs are.

Depending on their level of functionality, they may only need you at certain times of the day or week. However, they may need you much more than that. The important thing is that you are respectful of their wishes as you move forward.

According to research published in the Journal of Applied Gerontology, a significant number of family caregivers are relocating to either share residence in their parents’ own homes or live closer to their family members in need. You may have to consider moving if your parent is exhibiting signs that they require your immediate and consistent help.

Here are some examples of what your parent may need from you as a caregiver:

  • Your parent may want your help with aspects of their personal hygiene. This could include assistance with showering, toileting, getting dressed, and washing clothes.
  • Your parent may need help preparing meals and going grocery shopping. More than just helping your mom with the physical task of cooking, the act of cooking and meal preparation is an excellent bonding opportunity for both of you to spend quality time together. Likewise, if your dad is willing and able to join you on a trip to the store, you can use this time as a chance to enjoy each other’s company.
  • Your parent may need help with some light housekeeping. Keeping a clean space should remain a priority as an organized space equals more comfort for you and your parent. Helping them with household cleaning can also bring about feelings of empowerment on their behalf. And like cooking, cleaning provides valuable time for bonding. Whether or not your parent can physically pitch in to help, organizing the house can be a time for conversation and reminiscing.
  • You might need to remind your parent of some things. Whether it be medication reminders, doctor appointments, help with where they left things, and other aspects of their care plan, you’ll rest easier knowing your parent is staying on top of the things that are keeping them as well as possible.

How to Become a Caregiver While Still Caring For Yourself

How to become a caregiver: Man meditating

A large aspect of succeeding in caregiving is making sure you have adequate time, energy, and resources to properly be there for your parent as well as yourself. There’s a famous quote by Rumi that says: “Never give from the depths of your well, but from your overflow.”

Keep Tending to Important Areas of Your Own Life

Do you have a career? A family? School? Pets? Make sure that you keep doing what needs to be done in these areas of your life.

Caregiving is going to encompass an entirely new slice of your life, so be sure to prioritize planning for your weeks to come. Keeping journals, planners, and calendars will help you stay organized and on top of your responsibilities while not feeling overwhelmed.

You might also want to consider formulating daily or weekly rituals to remain committed to the things you don’t want to compromise. Some examples are family meals with your partner/spouse and/or children, time for catching up on work projects, and social activities with friends.

Evaluate Potential Financial Options

While you don’t “become” a caregiver as daughter or son, it’s possible to obtain government assistance for being a family caregiver depending on the Canadian province you’re located in. There are resources that can help in your search for stipends and other potential benefits.

Although the only province that offers caregiver allowance is Nova Scotia (through The Caregiver Benefit Program), there are tax and insurance benefits available to all Canadian citizens.

For example, Canada’s Compassionate Care Benefit program (CCB) can offer you job protection up to twenty-eight weeks while the Canada Caregiver Credit can be claimed while filing your taxes. You can also consider applying for the Disability Tax Credit if your parent has a “severe or prolonged” impairment.

Be sure to write your local constituency or Member of Parliament (MP) for the latest information regarding your eligibility for assistance.

Prioritize Self Care

Aside from caregiving, work, family, and everything else going on in your life,  it’s crucial to focus on your own personal care. This is your “me time” — the time spent making sure you’re healthy, happy, and feeling OK.

Caregiver depression is unfortunately a real thing, and it’s not uncommon. It can be quite challenging to be around someone you love who is aging and who may have conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease.

To avoid losing yourself in your caregiving and other demanding responsibilities, it’s important to prioritize self care.

Do your best to eat well, get plenty of exercise, spend some time alone (and out in nature when possible), and participate in the activities you enjoy as often as possible.

Support groups are a great form of self care — it often helps discuss your challenges with others who are in similar situations. As Rumi so eloquently stated, you want to make sure you’re able to give from your overflow.

Thinking About How to Become a Caregiver Is Your First Step

Caregiving as a daughter or son is a powerful act of love and commitment that your parent is likely to appreciate and may prefer more than a professional service.

Being a family caregiver can be an enormous adjustment. As you make yourself more available for your parent, you’ll have to prioritize other important areas of your life and work to make sure you can still have mental, physical, and emotional support and balance.

With enough knowledge about your parent’s needs, and all the love you have in your heart for your mom and dad, you all can get through this time together and make the most of each moment. Just make sure you give yourself the time to focus on any personal care programs you may have.

What’s your future looking like as a caregiver? Are you a daughter or son who’s expecting to provide home care for your parent soon? Reach out to us with any questions and concerns you may have. We want to hear about your caregiving journey.

6 thoughts on “How to become a caregiver for your aging parent

  1. My journey has been all of that, and it is important to note that it does not end when your loved one goes into long term care. I continue to visit my father every night in the home, most times getting him ready for bed myself. There is simply not enough staff to provide quality care and interaction for each resident.

  2. I am caring for my mom and I don’t have any emotional support from anyone. My mom is difficult at times, therefore it has strained our relationship. Sometimes I feel like I am a bad daughter; I can see my mother’s disappointment of me in her eyes. Is there hope for me to give my mom better care?

    • The fact that you are even thinking about it shows me you are a caring daughter Sandra. I suggest you be careful about assuming your mom is disappointed–it may be that you are projecting your own feelings on to your mother. Please be kind and gentle with yourelf.

    • Hi Doris,

      You may be able to, if first eligible for EI, and if your mother has COVID or has a life threatening illness/diagnosis, at which time, you may be eligible for compassionate care benefits.

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