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7 Essential Questions to Consider Before Becoming Your Parent's Caregiver

7 minute readLast updated January 26, 2024
fact checkedon January 26, 2024
Written by Danny Szlauderbach
Reviewed by Carol Bradley Bursack, NCCDP-certified dementia support group facilitatorAuthor Carol Bradley Bursack spent two decades as a primary caregiver to seven elders and is also a newspaper columnist, blogger, and expert on aging.
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Deciding to care for your elderly parents is difficult, and most Americans don’t understand the physical, financial, or emotional requirements before they take on this responsibility. This may lead to unsafe situations or serious burnout. To prevent this, ask yourself these seven essential questions before deciding whether or not caregiving is the right role for you.

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Are you prepared to be the primary caregiver for your aging parents?

About 17% of adult Americans currently provide care for a family member or loved one over the age of 50, according to A Place for Mom’s 2023 proprietary data.[01] Despite these numbers, becoming your parent’s caregiver can be demanding. It often includes advocating for your loved one, coordinating providers and performing medical care tasks at home.

Being prepared for the role of sole caregiver means taking a lot of different factors into consideration. You’ll need to ask yourself hard questions about how your own availability and caregiving capabilities will allow you to provide effective care — for both your loved one and yourself.

Asking those questions early will help you prepare for a role that, for many adults, comes as a sudden surprise, leaving them feeling like they aren’t ready to parent their parents.

This was the case for Martha Stettinius, author of “Inside the Dementia Epidemic: A Daughter’s Memoir.” She spent eight years as sole caretaker for her mother, who had Alzheimer’s disease, and many of the demands of caregiving were unexpected.

I never imagined that I would become not only the main provider of her appointments, clothing, food, shelter, and transportation, but also her primary source of entertainment and engagement.

Martha Stettinius, author and family caregiver

Stettinius continued, “I thought that if I just tried hard enough I could be all things to all people.”

She found herself juggling the roles of employee, mother, and wife, as well as handling all the requirements of caregiving.

“Like all caregivers, I did the best I could with the information and support I could find, but I know now that I would do a number of things differently if I had to do it all again.”

Let our care assessment guide you

Our free tool provides options, advice, and next steps based on your unique situation.

7 questions to ask before becoming an elderly parent's caregiver

The truth is, caring for elderly parents can affect your emotional, mental, and physical health. It can also have unforeseen effects on your relationship with your parent as well as your relationships with others.

Being prepared for the potential changes of caregiving means asking yourself:

  1. Am I financially prepared for the extra costs of caregiving? According to A Place for Mom’s 2023 caregiver research, family caregivers spend on average $7,242 a year on caregiving-related expenses. And this doesn’t take into account the opportunity cost of cutting back on work hours or stopping work altogether to care for a loved one.
  2. Am I really capable of taking care of Dad or Mom all by myself? Do I need to hire home care or consider assisted living? Caring for an elderly loved one may require specialized skills and equipment, especially if the loved one has limited mobility or memory loss. Lifting a loved one can be especially hard on a caregiver’s body.
  3. Do I have the social support and resources I’m going to need? Caregiving is a team sport. If you have a community of family and friends who can help you shoulder this responsibility, you may feel more comfortable being your parent’s primary caregiver.
  4. How will caregiving affect my physical and mental health? According to A Place for Mom’s 2023 State of Caregiving Survey, 96% of family caregivers are emotionally drained each day from the stress of caregiving.
  5. If my parent has dementia and can no longer filter their behavior, will I be able to cope with potentially hurtful words or actions? Emotions tend to be heightened when dealing with a loved one instead. Professional memory care specialists know how to handle the emotional outbursts of dementia patients.
  6. Will I be able to allow myself to accept help and take breaks? Family guilt can cause some caregivers to refuse help, which leads to burnout.
  7. Will I be able to cut back on work responsibilities during those times when I need to care for my parent? In 2023, 75 of family caregivers said they had to limit their working hours to care for a parent.[01]

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Tips for family caregivers

One of the most often-repeated pieces of advice we hear from caregivers is to not forget to take advantage of the many resources that are available. Even if you don’t feel prepared to take on the tasks of caregiving, you can seek assistance from family, friends, and support groups to help you through the difficult times. If you have a job on top of caregiving, take advantage of federal employee benefits for caregivers that you may not know about.

Like many other family caregivers, Ann Napoletan thought she could handle everything on her own without support. “In hindsight, I wish I had gotten involved in a support group and dug deeper to find other resources,” she says.

I would have gotten so much out of connecting with others who had been in my shoes. I know I could have benefited immensely from the experience of others when I was so ‘in the dark’ about every aspect of what I was facing.

Ann Napoletan, Alzheimer’s advocate and blogger

This is especially true when a parent is suffering from Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia. “Our loved one becomes someone they never were, and over time they lose their filter of things that should not be said, actions that should not happen,” says Leeanne Chames, executive director of Memory People, an Alzheimer’s, dementia, and memory impairment support and awareness group.

“Words hurt more than anything else, and hurtful, hateful words are a part of this journey. When they’re directed at the one that is sacrificing their life to help them, it can be devastating.”

Preparing for Alzheimer’s aggression or being forgotten by your loved one is only one aspect of coping. Often, the best thing family members can do is seek out support from those who understand.

Caregivers may also want to evaluate long-term care options like assisted living or memory care for when the time is right.

If you feel that you don’t have the resources or training to be your parent’s sole caregiver, consider contacting one of A Place for Mom’s Senior Living Advisors. This service comes at no cost to you or your family.

Table of Contents

Are you prepared to be the primary caregiver for your aging parents?

7 questions to ask before becoming an elderly parent's caregiverTips for family caregivers

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  1. [1] A Place for Mom. (2023). A Place for Mom proprietary data.

Meet the Author
Danny Szlauderbach

Danny Szlauderbach is a managing editor at A Place for Mom, where he's written or reviewed more than 250 articles covering a wide range of senior care topics, from veterans benefits and home health services to innovations in memory care. Since 2010, his editing work has spanned several industries, including education, technology, and financial services. He’s a member of ACES: The Society for Editing and earned a degree in journalism from the University of Kansas.

Reviewed by

Carol Bradley Bursack, NCCDP-certified dementia support group facilitator

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