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Parental role reversal: recognising when elderly parents need help


1st Jan 2015 Wellbeing

Parental role reversal: recognising when elderly parents need help
The UK’s ageing population means that instead of being cared for by our parents, it’s our turn to worry about them. This guide aims to show how to keep elderly parents happy, healthy, and well supported.

When to offer your elderly parents support

We all need support through life, whether it’s friendships, spouse, or indeed parents. It is no surprise that as we get older we may need a little more support than usual, we become less mobile and susceptible to chronic health issues. According to research conducted by 3rings, "More than half of British adults with elderly relatives (58%) agree that they are worried about them, yet over a third (34%) agree they find it difficult to discuss concerns about health and safety with them."
With that in mind, let's discuss how you may broach the subject of extra support, and the clues that might leave feeling concerned. 
  • It's important to know your parents' capabilities. What is their daily routine? Breaking this routine could be an early sign that they need extra attention. 
  • Does their home suit their needs? The furniture may have been arranged like that since you were a wee nipper, but now the arrangement might not be suitable. You may need to be a little persuasive to encourage change. 
  • Similarly, the house itself—while holding a lot of memories—might now be impractical. Whether that’s living in a the fourth-floor high-rise with a dodgy lift, a four storey townhouse, or out in the idyllic rural countryside. If your parent is likely to find themselves becoming less independent in the home and more isolated, it could lead to more issues. 
  • Talk to your parents and ask them if they are ok, if they have any issues or new challenges. Find out how they feel about their day-to-day lives. Understanding their view will help you figure out how to best resolves it and keep all parties happy. 
  • Regular conversation with your parents will help you to discover their concerns naturally, it may feel a little forced if you suddenly bombard them with lifestyle questions. Be sure to listen carefully for any opportunities to offer extra help. 
  • Make sure you know their medical situation too. How is their health? Do they need to take regular medication? Do they suffer from arthritis or diabetes? Do they need to make regular visits to the doctor? 
  • Be aware of their fierce desire to maintain independence. Humans are (sometimes stubborn) creatures of habit and as such don’t like their ways being interfered with—even though we’re struggling. Use your judgement when deciding whether to criticise their lifestyle choices, think about what they really need, as opposed to enforcing your own standards

Things to look out for:


  • Does walking through the house take them longer?
  • Are they increasingly holding onto furniture to navigate their path, or making more use of a stick or frame?
  • Are they struggling to get in and out of the house or up and down steps?
  • Are they managing to get to the shop? Are their cupboards regularly stocked up?
  • Have they taken to sleeping downstairs?

The day-to-day practical things

  • Have they stopped eating the usual freshly prepared meals, and eating more pre-prepared food, or even just biscuits?
  • Is there out-of-date food lying around the cupboards and fridge, or are meals going uneaten?
  • Is the home no longer as clean as it once was? Look out for layers of dust, plates piling up, and bins that need emptying.
  • How clean are their clothes? Are they stained or in a state of disrepair?
  • Is the post being attended to?
  • Are they staying social and/or sticking at their hobbies?

Obvious health issues

  • Vision or hearing deteriorating
  • Weight loss
  • Unkempt appearance (not only hair but finger and toe nails)
  • Poor oral hygiene
  • Infections or ulcers on the skin
  • Low or irritable mood
man walking woman

How can you help your elderly parent?


Whether it’s ordering a regular online delivery or you take them to the shops yourself, shopping with your parent can ensure that their cupboards are stocked and that they are eating nutritiously.
It may be worth considering actually taking them to the shops yourself as this adds a social element, and of course, your mother and/or father still enjoy spending time with their children.


Similarly you may just want to help your parent get to the bank, but you could also manage this online.
Banks are used to setting up more formal arrangements for elderly relatives and will be able to provide paperwork so everyone knows where everything is at.
However, if your parent is becoming frail it may be worthwhile setting up a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA).
LPA is a legal document that allows the parent to appoint one or more people to make important decisions for them.
This means that if they fall into ill health or suffer an accident and can no longer make important decisions, then somebody will be there to make sure everything is in order.

Medical support

Taking your elderly relatives to doctors appointment means you can act as an advocate. You can tell the doctor what they’ve told you about their condition, or what you’ve noticed, and help to explain any difficulties that they may be experiencing.
It also means that you will be able to report back, or further explain what the doctor has told them, as well as keeping you aware of where they are in terms of their health.
Make sure your elderly parent is up-to-date on the following check-ups:
An older person can appoint a LPA to assist with medical issues too, should they lose the capacity to make decisions about their health.

Getting the family involved

Of course all families have their difficulties, and for whatever reason it may be a little more difficult to keep all family members involved. It’s important to keep the lines of communication open as caring for an elderly relative can involve a lot of emotional, practical and financial challenges.
Try not to burden your parent in any quarrels that may occur, this may leave them feeling burdened.
Follow these tips to help:
  • Divide up jobs between siblings depending on individuals talent, proximity or practicality. Some may be more financially minded, others might be more suited to dropping in for afternoon tea or running errands on a Wednesday afternoon. 
  • Encourage grandchildren to drop in too. 
  • Make sure that everyone involved is getting regular breaks too. It’s important that everyone gets a bit of respite from time to time. 
  • If there is one sibling taking on most of the burden, make sure that they are well supported. There may be extra support in the local area, they could also be entitled to an allowance if their care work exceeds 35 hours a week.
Mobilty Solutions for Independent Living
The emotional and psychological aspects of experiencing restricted mobility can sometimes be as hard to bear as the physical challenges. This is why familiar surroundings and a sensitive approach to your changing circumstances are so important to helping you cope with what is already a difficult situation.
We understand this, and the advisors we work with at Bathing Solutions pride themselves on their no-pressure approach to consultations, their after-sales service and support, and their discreet and sympathetic professionalism.
Well-designed bathroom fixtures take style, aesthetics and even luxury into account as much as utility and function. So you never know - installing mobility-assisting features in your bathroom could result in a marked improvement to your existing facilities in more ways than one.
Reader’s Digest work with Bathing Solutions, who were one of the first companies to specialise in the supply and installation of bathrooms specifically designed for the mature customer and who pride themselves on being able to make a real difference to the lives and well-being of our customers.

This post contains affiliate links, so we may earn a small commission when you make a purchase through links on our site at no additional cost to you. Read our disclaimer

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