Caring for elderly parents

An overview of advice, resources and help as your loved ones age

As parents or other loved ones age, families face many concerns. Health deteriorates with age. Seniors who live alone may be vulnerable to crime or scams. Older homes that haven’t been updated in a while can be unsafe. You might worry about how well they eat. As time goes on, concerns increase.

If you’re just embarking on giving more care to aging parents or older relatives, you’re not alone. According to a report from 2015, one out of every three working Canadians gave personal time to care for a disabled person. Many of those were seniors, and in most cases a relative of the caregiver. In 2012, the number was 3 in 10 (or 28%), according to Stats Canada1. The ratio increases incrementally because of the discrepancy between the population of aging baby boomers and diminishing younger demographics.

Caring for aging parents is challenging physically and emotionally, and the challenge can increase. Here’s our guide to caregiving for aging relatives, with links to more resources throughout.

Caregiving of aging parents: an overview

There are a wide variety of ways to make caregiving easier on yourself. Here's a look:

Caregiver action plan
You can improve your life and review your goals by creating a caregiver action plan. Ideally, you create a plan early on in caregiving, but stopping to take an overview at any time is a great idea. This can be a point where you get an overview and take stock of where you are, and what you and your elderly parent or loved one requires.

The action plan can be an ongoing guidebook to assess how well you are doing, how realistic your expectations are, and how well you are meeting those expectations.

Take care of yourself
You need to take care of yourself, too. Know when to say no, and to prioritize tasks and come up with simple strategies that reduce stress. Don’t put your own life on hold.

Caregiver fatigue is a factor for many caregivers. We offer a variety of tips including:

Taking care of yourself while you are a caregiver

There are three fundamentals you need to be mindful of, as you give care to your elderly loved one. You can't do this on your own. You are stronger if you know how to ask for support and help. Be a better caregiver by keeping the following in mind:

  1. Have a spiritual outlet. Use meditation or prayer, or at the very least a regular workout routine…. something that gives you a personal outlet to help you manage your stress and stay sane. Having a regular meditation or prayer schedule is probably the best means of dealing with the stress of caregiving. These are fundamental strategies that can help you avoid traps like self-medication or breakdown. Taking a walk once a day (with your dog, for example) might be a baseline for exercise, but the deeper the immersion in an outlet (such as working out or playing sports regularly) the better. You need to take care of yourself, too.
  2. Give yourself a break. Respite care is funded by the government in many provinces. Giving yourself a holiday or at least a break from caregiving is a fundamental means of staying healthy and sane. This can be another tactic to help you give the best care possible, in the long run.
  3. Manage your financial health. Manage the money problems as well as you can. There are many ways that you can find assistance, including government assistance, tax breaks and benefits. Read more about caregiver benefits.

Positive aspects of caregiving
Caregiving is not all negative, not by any stretch of the imagination. Many people are at their best when giving care to others. People find renewed self-motivation and purpose when given someone to care for. In a study of 289 Canadian caregivers, 73% could identify at least one positive aspect of caregiving, i.e. feeling fulfilled.5 When caregivers were given positive feedback, they had lower levels of depression and irritation.

Many families with aging relatives begin, at some time, to discuss the need for seniors' care. Depending on where you are in the process of dealing with aging, this can be a difficult, stressful transition, and all of these discussions may range from uncomfortable to contentious to argumentative or worse.

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Where are you on your caregiver journey?

Thinking ahead to senior care

Ideally, there are a number of steps you go through as you and your family think ahead to getting help for your parents.

Focus on a gradualist approach, where you may raise the topic early with mom or dad, then have an ongoing discussion. Try to talk about it in one of the most casual environments you can find. John Wright, writing for Comfort Life, has said, "I'll tell you, it's easier to [talk about things] at the cottage than in the intensive care unit, when your thoughts are otherwise occupied."

Most families operate this way, and start to address the topic long before it becomes an issue.

Family members need to know their roles, beginning by knowing who is the best one to talk to mom or dad. John Wright says, "Make those in your family comfortable talking about their roles and responsibilities in the future."

If the gist of the discussion is a parental admonition that goes something like "You're never putting me in one of those homes," consider that a small start. If this describes your mom or dad, you need to get around to telling them that not all "those homes" are the same; some senior retirement residences today are amazing. There are some homes that unfortunately end up in the news but not many of those end up in the pages of Comfort Life. We're getting ahead of ourselves here, though.

You may be a long way from having the talk, but that doesn't mean you can't begin with some "feelers." John Wright says, "Whatever the beginning point - a birthday, an anniversary or a weekend at the cottage - pick a date and talk to your parents about retirement and care." So you know, so you can see how far you get.

The cost of caregiving: the statistics

An overview of demographics and costs associated with caregiving in Canada

Number of Canadians providing care to disabled relatives (mostly seniors)

8 million 1

Number of hours spent caregiving (for free) per year

114 million

Amount of productivity lost due to lost work time

$1.3 billion2

Average travel per month in order to give support

225 km/mo3

Estimated value of this "volunteer labour" annually

$20-30 billion

Note that the Canada Revenue Agency offers various forms of assistance, tax breaks and benefits for caregivers.4 Many caregivers feel stressed by the amount of time they are giving to their aging parents, coupled with concerns about costs, many of which they may be taking on themselves. The government of Canada actually makes some very surprising tax credits available to Canadians. Few of these are commonly known, and many of these may be surprising; check out our complete overview of caregiver benefits.


1 "In 2012, 8 million Canadians, or 28% of the population aged 15 and over, provided care to family members or friends with a long-term health condition, a disability or problems associated with aging. Among these family caregivers, 39%  primarily cared for their father or mother, 8% for their spouse or partner, and 5% for their child. The remaining (48%)  provided care to other family members or friends."
3"Cost of Being a Caregiver"
5Cohen et al, "Positive Aspects of Caregiving."


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