Parental role reversal: recognising when elderly parents need help

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. 

  • 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  • Is there out-of-date food lying around the cupboards and fridge, or are meals going uneaten?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

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:

  • 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.