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Your Guide to Caring for Aging Parents

By Natalia Lusinski

June 28, 2021


At some point, you may need to care for an aging parent. Whether you stop by their home every day, move in, or move them into your home, there are several things you’ll need to take into consideration. For example, are they ambulatory? Bed-ridden? Or somewhere in-between? Are they cognizant? Are they fairly self-sufficient and still cook their own meals and drive? Or do they need their meals made for them and rides to doctors’ appointments?

Assess your parent’s Activities of Daily Living (ADLs)

The first step in caring for your aging parents is to figure out their level of independence. Many people use the KATZ ADL, Activities of Daily Living, which are based on six skills:

  • Bathing

  • Dressing

  • Toileting

  • Transferring

  • Continence

  • Feeding

For each, it’s necessary to determine if your parent can do them on their own or if they require assistance.

Assess your parent’s Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADLs)

It’s also important to examine your aging parent’s Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADLs), which are classified into several main categories, too, including:

  • Cooking

  • Cleaning

  • Laundry

  • Transportation

  • Managing money

Oftentimes, occupational therapists assess a person’s IADLs in rehabilitation settings to assess their level of independence and cognitive functioning. The more IADLs the person can do on their own, the more independent they are and the less assistance they’ll likely need.

Shadow your parent

To get an in-depth glimpse of your parent’s day-to-day life, you can shadow them and see what they do from the time they wake up until the time they go to sleep. It’s a good idea to do this for at least one week since their routine may vary from one day to the next.

You can pay attention to things such as:

  • What medications did they take, and when?

  • What kind of meals did they make? Were they well-balanced? Did they eat enough?

  • Did they need help getting up from the toilet or out of the bathtub?

  • Did they bathe, or avoid doing so perhaps due to difficulty?

  • If they struggled to stand up from a seated position, would handrails help?

  • Were they able to grocery shop or get to the doctor on their own?

  • Is their financial information in a secure, easy-to-find place or scattered in various file folders and desk drawers?

Of course, no one likes to be spied on, and your aging parent may feel that’s exactly what you’re doing. First, remind them that you are only trying to help. And the more you involve them with the decision-making, the better.

Assess what you can (and can’t) do

After determining the above, it’s time to figure out what you can and can’t do. You likely have a full-time job and/or a full-time family, which may make it impossible to look after your parent full-time, too. Yes, you can be there to help out, but you may need to hire someone to cook meals for them or to bathe them. And no matter how much you want to help your parent as much as possible, it can be stressful trying to juggle it all. Ask yourself:

  • What can I (realistically) do? 

    • You may think you have the strength to lift your mother out of the bathtub, but you don’t want to injure yourself in the process.

  • How much time can I dedicate to helping my parent? 

    • You work full-time, you need to take one child to soccer practice and another to band practice, not to mention make dinner…

  • What do I need help with (either from siblings or other family members/friends)?

    • Perhaps you can help your parent on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and your brother can help out on Tuesdays and Thursdays, while another person can help on weekends. Also, what, specifically, do you need others to do? Pick up medications? Cook? Drive your parent to appointments? It’s also good to look into programs like Meals on Wheels. Another timesaver can be getting groceries delivered. To keep track of it all, you and other family members can also create a shared digital calendar and color-code certain tasks.

  • What could I use professional help with (based on the ADL and IADL assessments above), and how often? 

    • For example, helping your mom out of the bathtub was not as easy as you thought, so perhaps a professional caregiver or home health aide would be better-suited for the task.

Most importantly, don’t forget to schedule time for self-care. 

Assess your parent’s important information

When it comes time to caring for your aging parent, an important factor is finances. While there are volunteer services you can use to find caregivers — such as AARP, ElderHelpers.com, and VolunteerMatch.org — there are also many that come at a cost, whether they’re from a service like Care.com or through a doctor’s referral. 

In addition to finances, you and your parent should also discuss their health directives and where they keep that information, from their Will to their insurance policies.

Once you locate your parent’s important information — whether it was in a shoebox under their bed, a home safe, or in a safety deposit box at the bank — it’s important to have it all in one place. If organizing information digitally, using a family operating system like Trustworthy is best. It does the work for you by categorizing everything, sending you alerts when information needs to be updated, and is encrypted, so you know it’s secure.

They may need your help when it comes to storing their documents electronically, from scanning them to organizing them. Start small, but the first step is locating the documents and information for them. And once you upload everything, you and other close family members can easily access the information at a moment’s notice.

You’ll also need to keep the original copies of certain items, from your parent’s birth certificate to their Living Will or Trust. When wondering what you should have a physical copy of, it’s good to think about how difficult it would be to replace the item should something happen to it.

Important information you should review with your parent includes their one-of-a-kind documents, such as:

  • Business records such as business licenses, payroll records, patents and trademarks, and employment records such as employment agreements and performance reviews

  • House or property deeds

  • Insurance policies such as auto, home, life, health, disability, personal liability

  • Investment retirement documents or pension plans

  • Mortgage documents or home improvement receipts until they sell the property

  • Power of attorney or health care proxy

  • Trust or living trust

  • Vaccination, immunization, and medical records including medication and allergy information

  • Will or living will

While there are a lot of factors to consider when caring for aging parents, there are a plethora of resources out there to assist you. Trustworthy is happy to help you navigate this often-challenging path. Trustworthy’s concierge service — wherein you can speak to an actual person, not a chatbot — can help you locate missing documents, scan them, help you set up life insurance or other policies you may need, and even meet with you one-on-one. Basically, they’ll guide you through the whole process to not only make sure your account is as complete as possible, but that you and your loved ones are as prepared as possible, too.

About Trustworthy

Let’s face it: We’re living in precarious times, and there’s no such thing as being overprepared.

We created The Family Operating System® to help families get — and stay — organized, no matter what the future holds. 

Whether you want to help your aging parent, yourself, your family, or all three, if you're ready to elevate your family’s information management, we're ready to help.

Talk to a team member today or get started here.