Not all parenting experiences are idyllic. Many of us are products of dysfunctional families. They provide us with opportunities to overcome adversity and grow as human beings. We plow along and find ourselves along the way separating ourselves from our past and creating the possibility of who we can be. And yet, these elderly parents come to a stage in life in which we are forced to pay attention to their increasing needs and evolving frailty. What is an adult caregiver child to do?

Make no mistake about it, the needs of our elderly parents are a zip line to the past. Suddenly we find no matter how hard we have worked to separate from our past, time evaporates and we become that wounded child once again. But, take heart. With optimal support and fortitude, the opportunity to transcend the past and solidify our adulthood is available to all of us. There are gifts along the way.


Tips for Managing Elderly Dysfunctional Parents


  • Expect and Overcome Denial

Denial is a typical response to a parent’s changing needs. Maintain a log of events as they occur. This will help you see what is happening in black and white.

  • Develop Realistic Expectations about their Situation and Your Relationship to it

Realistic expectations rely upon self education. For example, if a parent has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease, learn everything you can about it. Contact the Alzheimer’s Association for assistance. Learn how to communicate to your parent based upon the stage of the disease. For example, encouraging reminiscing can help increase your loved one’s social interaction and keep them from feeling isolated. Learn about the resources available to you such as appropriate neurologists, psychiatrists, alternative living communities, support groups, and assistive devices. Knowledge is always empowering.

  • Know Yourself

How much can you do without compromising your mental health, your family and your career? How can you enroll the support of family members and your community?

  • Interview Your Parents

One of the best ways to get your parents to talk is to interview them about their life and their experiences. You probably heard these stories many times before, but this specific request can be illuminating. You get to really listen to them and they get to communicate in a way that is non-threatening. You may achieve an understanding of the context of their life that you did not have before. It can support healing.

  • Consider a New Caregiver Role

Think about creating a new parent-child relationship based upon the present rather than the past.  The past is over and you are not the same person you were and nor are they.  Recreate a new script for yourself based on the current needs and the reality of right now.

  • Self Preservation

Whenever you go on an airplane, the flight attendant invariably states the same thing. In the event of the need for oxygen, always adjust your own oxygen before attending to the needs of your child. This sound advice that carries over to the caregiver role. Without identifying your personal boundaries through self listening, realistic expectations and reflection, the resentment cloud will envelop you. Learn what you can do and what you can not do.

  • The Gift of Letting Go

When parents push the “past button,” we always have the choice to rely on our own reality instead. After all, we worked hard to create it and there is no better time to rely on our own view of things. Becoming an adult means releasing and transcending our need to be daddy or mommy’s little boy or girl. Not needing our parents to care for us as we did as children (which they failed at anyway), allows us to claim ourselves in a whole new way. The result is simple – the result is our freedom!

How to Achieve Solutions for Peace of Mind and Better Senior Care

As is often the case in self-help publications, all of it sounds good on paper. I know that finding oneself in the caregiver’s role is hard to swallow. It usually starts out gradually as we take over more of our parents’ increasing requirements. Or it is precipitated by a major event such as a stroke. We do what we have to do and think about it later.

Once we acknowledge the changes in our lives and that of our parents, it is likely that most of us will reach out for assistance. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help and contact a Geriatric Care Manager. As experts in the field, these professionals are dedicated and skilled in dealing with your specific issues and can save you time and heartache.

My Story

Being a caregiver is one of those opportunities in life that can provide unexpected riches. I know from my own experience of caring for my mom and recently losing her. My memories provide me with solace as we navigated the health system, picking and choosing what we would and would not do to prolong her life at the expense of compromising her moments of now. I, too, spent enough of my own years in psychotherapy and in other personal growth programs to come to terms with things as they were and to recreate a new possibility for myself. I know in my heart that I did my best for her and myself. That gives me peace. But I did not do it alone.

We are all faced with a series of great opportunities brilliantly disguised as impossible situations.
– Charles R. Swindoll


About the Author

Beverly Bernstein Joie is the founder and president of Complete Care Strategies, a senior care management company serving Philadelphia and its surrounding communities. A Certified Aging Life Care Manager with more than 20 years of experience, Beverly has worked in senior care since 1994, both in assisted living communities and in private practice. She is a member of the Aging Life Care Association and was a former president of the Philadelphia Chapter.

Complete Care Strategies consists of care managers, specialized human service professionals, who advocate and direct the care of seniors and others facing ongoing health challenges. Working with families, its expertise provides the answers at a time of uncertainty. Along with its licensed home care division, it can help clients safely remain at home under the watchful eye of skilled professionals. Families are afforded an integrated model of care that, with guidance and advocacy, lead them to the actions and decisions that ensure quality care and an optimal life for those they love