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Talking With Family When You Can No Longer Care for an Elderly Parent

7 minute readLast updated January 2, 2024
fact checkedon January 2, 2024
Written by Danny Szlauderbach
Reviewed by Amy McLoughlin, senior living expertAmy McLoughlin is a learning and development specialist with A Place for Mom, focusing on improving the lives of seniors and caregivers.
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Being a primary caregiver for an aging loved one is a huge commitment. Caregiving may affect your finances, health, or other relationships — or it may just be too difficult emotionally or physically. If you need a change or feel you’re giving up your life to care for elderly parent, it doesn’t mean you’re being selfish or uncaring. Learn how to talk to your family when you can no longer care for an elderly parent and need to create a new caregiving arrangement.

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Key Takeaways

  1. 1. Being the primary caregiver of an aging loved one can cause burnout. Feelings of loneliness, isolation, and frustration may be signs that it’s time to discuss different options with family members.
  2. 2. Speaking with family members is the first step to making a change. Your family may not react positively, so prepare to explain your reasons for seeking help.
  3. 3. Reframe your decision and come with options. Explain that your loved one may receive better, more professional care in a different setting or with a different caregiver. Offer options for what to do next.
  4. 4. Talking to family when you can no longer care for an aging parent may be emotional. Acknowledge your own feelings while also acknowledging that your decision may affect the rest of your family.

One woman's story

Every day, Linda Snyder went to her mother’s house in rural Pennsylvania, got her out of bed, gave her breakfast, and dressed her. Every night, Snyder returned to put her mother to bed. Once in a while, she would find her mother on the bathroom floor.

Sometimes, when Snyder arrived, her mother said, “Oh, it’s you again.” That lukewarm greeting didn’t help an already stressful routine, said Snyder.

Snyder admitted that being her mother’s primary caregiver has made her feel depressed, anxious, and guilty. She has five daughters who are beginning to have children of their own. She was torn between caring for her elderly mother and being present as her family grows.

After years of round-the-clock worry, Snyder finally decided she’s had enough.

“I’m pretty much at the breaking point,” she said. “I can’t do this anymore.”

Many family caregivers like Snyder end up feeling isolated, lonely, and burned out as they care for aging parents. There aren’t any legal obligations for adult children to be the primary caregivers for elderly family members, but many feel a moral and ethical obligation to physically care for their parents.

However, once a parent’s needs are more than an adult child can handle, feelings of resentment, inadequacy, and frustration can become overwhelming.

If you’re at this point, consider talking to your family members to let them know that you need help.

How to tell family you’ve reached a breaking point in taking care of elderly parents

When you’ve decided that you can’t continue to be your parent’s primary caregiver, how do you break it to the family? And how do you manage your own feelings of sadness and guilt?

“Other people don’t always like or understand our decisions,” said Steven Zarit, a professor in the Human Development and Family Studies Department at Pennsylvania State University and a caregiver support group leader. “We all have limits on what we are able to do, and if we have done the best we can and can’t go on, we shouldn’t feel guilty.”

Here are a few steps to follow when discussing a change in caregiving arrangements with your family.

1. Reframe your decision

It’s normal to feel guilty when you decide to stop being a caregiver for a loved one, but there are other ways to view this change.

“Rather than an either-or decision, I encourage adult children to think of it as, ‘I’ve been providing care in one way, and now I need to provide it in another way.’ It doesn’t mean you have to stop,” said Sara Honn Qualls, Director of the Gerontology Center at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.

Maybe your loved one requires additional care that you’re not trained to provide. If so, transitioning to memory care, assisted living, or having a home health care aide attend to your loved one may be the most caring thing you can do.

Let our care assessment guide you

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

2. Consider how others will be affected

Your decision to stop taking care of elderly parents will probably bring change for your other family members, too. They may resent your decision and worry that they’ll now have to put more time and effort into caregiving.

Undoubtedly, there will be complex family dynamics. Past issues between siblings may resurface. And any kind of change is usually difficult for everyone at first.

When she held family meetings, Qualls found it effective to ask, “What is most important to you about your mother’s life from today until the day she dies?” This question can help people focus on the parent rather than siblings’ perceived shortcomings or family history. Family meetings about elder care can be an opportunity to brainstorm and collaborate.

If you are the agent for your parent’s power of attorney and no longer wish to be, you’ll need to talk to your parent about them transferring the power of attorney to a new agent.

3. Communicate with care and compassion

When you explain that something needs to change, it’s helpful to use inclusive language. Make it clear to siblings that you’re not telling them what to do or forcing them into something they don’t want to do. The following phrases can help:

  • “Here are my thoughts.”
  • “I could use your help figuring out the next steps.”
  • “We’re in this together.”
  • “Do you have any other ideas?”

Sometimes the discussion can get heated. But rather than argue, tell family members you’ve done the best you can, and really believe it. If there’s negative feedback, stay calm.

You might say, “Maybe I could’ve done things differently, but I’ve truly reached the end of the line and need some help.” If they seem willing, tell them they’re welcome to take over caregiving responsibilities.

For some families, it makes sense to find a neutral, third party with clinical training to manage or attend the meeting. Your local Area Agency on Aging may be able to recommend a geriatric care manager, an elder mediator, or a family therapist to help facilitate your discussion.

4. Remember to acknowledge your feelings

Do you think others are judging you for not being a good enough daughter or sibling, or for abandoning the original caregiving plan? Do you believe that yourself? Do you feel someone else could have done better? Are others constantly criticizing your caregiving decisions? If so, try to have self-compassion and be kind to yourself. Feeling exhausted, lonely, inadequate, or resentful is often what happens when caregivers set boundaries too late or change the rules.

Remember that others have been in your situation before, and there are ways to talk to them. Consider joining an in-person or online caregiver support group.

5. Come with options

Consider offering a few practical options for what to do next when informing family members that you can no longer care for your aging parent. Maybe your parent needs a part-time in-home caregiver or round-the-clock care in an assisted living facility, or maybe you simply need more support from your siblings throughout the week. Try to have a few realistic options ready to discuss.

This can help alleviate some of the negative emotions you or your siblings may feel by keeping the focus on your aging parent. If finding senior living options is overwhelming for you, tell your family. They may be able to help, and some might even appreciate having a concrete task. Keep an open mind, as your family members may have their own suggestions.

Talk with a Senior Living Advisor

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What's the next step?

Once you’ve discussed your desire for a caregiving change, you may decide as a family that your aging loved one needs more help than you or your siblings can provide.

A Place for Mom can help you learn more about caregiving alternatives, such as assisted living, care homes, and memory care.

Connect with a Senior Living Advisor to get started. Our Senior Living Advisors can help assess your family’s specific situation, send you information about different senior living options, and connect you with communities in your area — all at no cost to you. Senior Living Advisors can also help facilitate family conversations and offer the same unbiased advice to everyone in the family.

Feel supported and prepared to discuss senior living

All our advice, all in one place. Reference our detailed resource for help starting a productive dialogue, getting your family on the same page, and considering next steps. Download the conversation guide


Meet the Author
Danny Szlauderbach

Danny Szlauderbach is a managing editor at A Place for Mom, where he's written or reviewed hundreds of articles covering a wide range of senior living 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

Amy McLoughlin, senior living expert

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