SparkPeople Blogs  •  stress  •  aging

The Stress of Managing Aging Parents

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Two years ago I lost my mother-in-law to liver cancer. From diagnosis to her passing we had less than 8 weeks to prepare for her death. It has been a very trying two years as my husband and I have spent countless hours teaching my father-in-law to carry on without her. My in-laws had a very traditional marriage.She took care of everything in the home--laundry, cooking, bills, appointments, you name it, she did it. But her passing forced us all to change. My father-in-law had to learn to do what she had done for him for well over 65 years.

This past Easter my father-in-law fell at home and fractured his greater tuberosity-the bone at the top of your arm. The break was so severe that if I had done the same thing it would have required surgery. However, because my father-in-law takes Coumadin (often referred to as a blood thinner) and his age (90), complications from surgery far outweighed the time it will take to allow the bone to heal naturally on its own.

Let me tell you, this has taken us on a fast a furious ride. He was admitted to the hospital for a few nights before being transferred to a rehab facility late last week. The social worker we have been working with told us because of this injury and a history of two previous falls, he should not live alone. We now have to take the next step into moving him into an assisted living facility. And we are learning so much.

I must say we never quite prepare ourselves for this time. Not only do we find ourselves having to look for a place he can afford, but we have to pack up 90 years of his life and dwindle it down to the few things he will be able to take with him. It has been an emotional roller-coaster for all of us. My husband is an only child so all decisions must be made by him. In some ways that can be a blessing as we do not have to argue over what is best with his Dad. But in other ways, it can be a very stressful time as ALL decisions must be made by him alone, all while maintaining a full-time job.

The stress of caring for our parents can be insurmountable at times. Not only do we have to make decisions quickly and many times the choices we have are very limited. We have to act fast and yet, without knowing how quickly he is going to heal will determine where he will move on from here. As with every other stressful event in our lives, it is the unknown, the uncertainty that can make life tough.  

Not only are we dealing with the physical stress of packing and moving him from a home he has lived in for almost six years now, but the emotional stress can be even more so. Having to surf through thousands of papers that my in-laws insisted keeping is draining to say the least. My in-laws kept every paper known to man going back as far as the 1940's.

We discovered so much as we began purging. We discovered baby books my mother-in-law kept from two babies she had lost shortly after birth-- one we knew of, but one who came as a great surprise. And to know that we will never know from her why she never told my husband is tough. We located my father-in-law's birth certificate with a different name than the one he goes by today. And of course coming across years and years of family photos can take a toll on any one.

We spend so much of our lives accumulating stuff that seems so important at the time, only to find ourselves having to dwindle our possession to what will fit in a 385 square foot room. I told my husband this has really caused me to re-think the 'stuff' in my own life. While we never expect or plan on our parents or another family member to get sick, turning to others who can help us out can lift a huge burden off our shoulders.

In the coming weeks, I hope to share with you some of my tips on how to maintain healthy habits while coping with the loss of a loved one or managing the care of an elderly parent. Until then I am back to packing and sifting through 65 years of memories my in-laws shared as a married couple.

Have you had to move a parent into assisted living? Do you have any lessons you can share with those of us who are just starting the process?  

Click here to to redeem your SparkPoints
  You will earn 5 SparkPoints
See more: stress aging parenting


KHALIA2 12/31/2019
I sure do miss my mom and dad! Report
KHALIA2 12/9/2019
Thank you! Report
DGRIFFITH51 11/20/2019
My parents are 94 and 95, they are slowly giving things away. The only problem is that mom forgets she gave something away then says "someone must have stolen it." This is a challenge to remind her what has happened to that item. I just am glad to still be able to spend time with them! Report
KHALIA2 11/17/2019
Great Article! Thanks for sharing! Report
1CRAZYDOG 10/23/2019
There just are no words that adequately describe the emotional and physical toll that caregiving takes. The idea isn't that I regret I did it .. . . not @ all. I am very glad I did! But it is just draining! Report
GMACAMI 10/16/2019
interesting article and comments Report
_CYNDY55_ 9/17/2019
Great article! Report
RAPUNZEL53 9/8/2019
Great. Report
GREEN_EYES2 9/2/2019
Very good article. Report
CECELW 9/1/2019
I went thru this with my MIL...It is very, very hard to get through. I'm sure I don't need to tell you that Report
DOG_MOM 8/31/2019
We are going through this with MIL right now. Stressful doesn't even begin to cover it. Report
LILIANN400 8/22/2019
Very good article. It's the second time around for our family. First with my mother, now with his. It's certainly a hard road to travel with lots of decisions to make. I think the most loving thing we can do for our children is to start purging our belongings so they dont have the same problems. My prayers are with you. Report
KHALIA2 8/9/2019
Praying for your father-in-law's speedy recovery! Report
BTRFLYDOG 8/1/2019
Going through a lot of the same things with my mom since my stepdad passed away a year and a half ago. I have a brother but he disappeared about 5 years ago. It is very stressful being the only person a parent can turn to. I was lucky - she wanted to go to an assisted living facility and voluntarily stopped driving as soon as she got there. Report
EMORRETI 7/14/2019
Very good article Report
MILPAM3 6/8/2019
Also an only child, I had to move my mom into assisted care last February. Thankfully for me, she had a health issue the year before and was in rehab a month, allowing me to purge a good bit from her 2-bedroom, 2-bath apartment. As with many her age, she lived through the Depression and kept everything. She still saves every plastic carry-out container. Her collections of stemware and pieces of serving ware are useless to me, but I hate to let them go for pennies. What a conundrum! Report
GETULLY 6/4/2019
As both my parents declined a sister and I took turns staying with them as necessary until they chose to move from the independent part of the care facility to the main building. Fortunately my mother was able to come back to the home to help sort the important things but many areas she left to 'the girls' to deal with. I was happy to help with anything they needed. Sometimes it was frustrating as neither one ever learned to manage money but everything worked out at the end. Report
RAMSEYSJ 4/16/2019
My Mom had a stroke 2 years ago and then had a terrible fall a couple of weeks ago. My Dad is her caregiver. I think your also grieving even though they still live. I know I am. I miss her writing me letters for no reason, sending me an address I needed, making my favorite meal when I visited, her laugh, and so much more. I miss her so much but she's still here but not like she wss. Report
Food for thought, as my parents are getting older. Report
We learned a lot after losing both of my husband’s parents and now helping my mom after my dad passed last year. This is made even harder since I am the only sibling out of 6 that live close enough to help her everyday. Report
I really miss my mom and dad. They passed back in the 60's. Report
Heart rendering story. I am blessed with a very healthy 91 year old mom. For the last few years she has asked if there are specific things that my brother or I want. If she isn’t ready to part with them she puts one of our names on it and keeps it. If she is ready to part with it she gives it to us then. Several times a year I spend a little time going through closets and drawers purging what isn’t needed. Hopefully this will make the final transition easier for all of us. Report
I have had to deal with this 2 times. My own parent's realized in their early 90's this was a good choice for them and were involved in all the decisions that made our job so much easier. My husband's mom we just moved into supported living and she is very angry with us. The emotional drain on the person making the decision is so hard. As long as you know you made the decision for the right reasons you will get through it. Report
After dealing with my grandmother's hoarding, the rest of us are inspired to simplify. As I remind husband, do we want our daughters to have to deal with all this? Report
I can attest to how difficult it is to care for aging parents. One of the biggest problems we've had is finding things. My father's organization wasn't good and my stepmother hid things in the oddest places. Report
A lot of good advice here. Report
I took care of my Mum for 14 years after my father died. We had to move her into a private Assisted Living after 12years, luckily she died before she ran out of money. I don’t know what people do if they don’t have loads of savings. Report
Paring down is difficukt but absolutely essential. I am constantly doing as much as I can so my sons won’t have too much to deal with. My husband is doing his own shredding etc, and after several businesses and two marriages, there is plenty. As fior the situation the blogger is in, there is plenty of company. Who among us is ready ? I’ll do my best but it will be difficult nonetheless. My mom died early, never knew my biys, and my father was a classic case - well until his late 80s and declining til 97. Lots of bumps along the way and in our case, some help. It’s out there...hard to find , but good to prepare. Report
I pray for you all. Been there done that with my in-laws. We didn't realize how stressful it was until they were gone. But it was a blessing to care for them. Report
good advice Report
Yup, been there, done that.
First with my mother, then with my FIL.
We spent most of five years caring for them, making life decisions, finding safe places for them to live....while working full time and raising our family.
And, you are right...going through their lifetime accumulations of STUFF was exhausting.
And, we too, decided not to burden our children in that way and have downsized and cleared out so much of our nearly 50 years together.
Good ideas Report
Thank you Report
Thank you Report
My dad is almost 90 and now lives with us. He falls occasionally and it worries me. We finally convinced him to get onebof those emergency bracelets. Hes in excellent health that i know of. But i find it hard sometimes to have him watch him age before my eyes. Report
I have and am going through similar issues. I haven't read all the comments, but one of the very first things to do is make sure his estate plan is up to date including power of attorney (health and finance) documents. If you don't have this, see an elder care attorney right away. They can be helpful even in giving a few suggestions for assisted living placement and the financing of it. Report
important, great post - look forward to reading more and learning from others on how to handle difficult circumstances with aging parents Report
Dealing with the death of a parent and a remaining elderly parent is a huge stressor. Report
thank you Report
great post Report
Thank you! Report
My mother has cared for my grandmother for the past 10 years. My mother was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma in December and is undergoing chemo. Trying to care for both of them has probably been one of the most stressful things I have ever tried to do in my life. I will say, this experience has brought me closer to my mom and taught me some valuable lessons in patience. Fortunately, we are expecting a full recovery for my mom but it will be a long uphill battle. We are currently researching assisted living facilities for my grandmother. I have the utmost respect for anyone who provides daily care to a parent or grandparent. It takes a strong committed person to be able to handle that type of stress. I pray daily for strength and guidance so I can be that type of person for my mother. Report
It was three years ago that my grandmother was admitted to the hospital and never went home. We had a big celebration of her 90th birthday Labor Day weekend before hand but we never knew what was going to happen next even though she had been battling breast cancer off and on for 12 years and it slowly advanced to her bones and finally to her brain. All her life she said that she never wanted to be put in a nursing home because she took care of elderly people the latter part of her life until she finally retired when she was about 85 years young. She had lived alone in her home up until that point an had insisted that she never be put in a nursing home because she knew what it was like. She had taken care of elderly people until she retired at he young age of 85. She never looked her age until the last few days of her life. He cancer the she had been battling the last 12 year of her life was rapidly progressing and we finally admitted her to t he hospice. Up until that point we had tried to get her to update her living will but she kept putting it off until it was too late. Report
I am also an only child and in September 2015, my father had a triple bypass. It created worlds of stress on mom and me. He came home from the hospital the first time too early (as far as I am concerned) with 3 times a week PT and nursing visits leaving the rest of his care to mom. I helped as much as I could, but I also work full time. Well, he got a blood infection and went back to the hospital. Meanwhile in caring for dad, mom hurt her back with lifting him and such. So with him back in the hospital, mom down with her back at home, I ran from work to the hospital to mom and around every day. I also helped her with house cleaning and grocery shopping, not to mention cooking/providing as many meals as possible. After all of that, dad is finally back to fairly good health and mom is getting there with her back. It's been a long 3 months. I got a HUGE wake-up call of what will happen when the time comes to take over for them, and honestly it scared the bejeebers out of me! As an only child the task of "parenting" your parents is daunting. (I am also single with no children of my own.) I'm glad I found this blog entry and that there are other people out there facing the same things. Thank you for posting! Report
I am having to deal with my parents. As an only child, my husband and I have to do it all. The worst problem was the fact that I didn't know how bad his mental decline was. Their investments were all scattered at several firms and there was no list of their holdings. It took a year of going thru their mail to finally get the answers. The other thing is to get names on old pictures. These can be scanned and kept with the information for future generations. Report
I just had to do the same thing. I have a sister but she is out of state. My daughter and I chose to move in with him so as to not make his life more stressful. Its difficult to say the least Report
My Mom, 93, moved in with us last November. Mentally she's really there - funny as all get out - didn't know that about her. I hadn't lived with her for over 50 years. I didn't/don't know who she is. We weren't close.

She's got neurological damage and uses a walker, shakes, can't speak well. She's also got bone on bone shoulders. Doctors won't operate. She's in constant pain and takes pain killers that would give me pause. She's fallen once since she's moved in. Like to scare the life out of me. Fortunately nothing was broken.

She doesn't care for my healthy cooking.

This is hard for us. It's like having a three way marriage. She's got an uncle who's 110 years old. No one dies in my family before 97 years old unless they were killed. My mom is really healthy, fit and within the correct weight range. She's going to be here a long long time or maybe I'll find her in her room one morning. That's scary too. Both sides of that equation.

So, the only thing I can say is to look at the good stuff. OK, you've got 60 years of stuff to go through. The pile does end at some point. We helped Mom go through some of her stuff for about two years before we could convince her that she couldn't continue to live alone. I lived 7 hours and my brother lived 2 hours away. But, I gotta say, I found out some really interesting stuff going through all that paper. Mom was a receipt, checkbook and recipe collector.

Since she's been here, I've had to thin out some of the "stuff" I've been collecting. It's made me become aware of the time I have now and to live now plus, the house is getting less cluttered.

Count your blessings that you're able to do this and to have the opportunity to look into another life and enjoy and share the wonder of it. Even though it may be hard.

Blessings come in strange boxes. Report
I never, ever post but this is a very important subject. My mom had a brain hemorrhage in 1999 and we have been on a roller coaster every since - multiple nursing homes, assisted living, mental and physical issues (including a 10 day coma), Medicaid, selling her house, etc. Been there, done that. She is now in extremely poor health in a nursing home on hospice care. She did no planning, all on me and my brother. HOWEVER, I will share the BEST advice I ever got. When my mom was in a coma, my clergyman said, "Don't beat yourself up worrying about making a BAD choice - they are all bad choices." This was really (strangely) very comforting to me. I stopped wishing for the perfect answer. Just kept putting one foot in front of the other. 15 years is too long.
This really speaks to me right and mom are 94 and 92. Both diagnosed with Alzheimer's last year. Dad had to stop driving (thankfully!) and we moved them to assisted living last Fall. We are getting ready to auction their. Home, car and possessions next month and they don't really understand what is going on. Although I'm extremely grateful for their reasonably good health, I wish that others would understand their mental state. They can't keep track of days/times, cannot follow simple directions and tend to bluff their way through the day. It's like having a couple of 4 year olds living on their own. Getting others to communicate to them through me is the biggest challenge. With a full time job, 3 children of my own, and a household of 54 years to sift through I couldn't be more stressed. Everyone going through a similar situation has my utmost sympathy! Report
When my mom died, Dad moved in with me. The adjustment was tough at first, but we love each other so much and have always been close. The only thing I can offer anyone dealing with this situation is to have patience and talk honestly about what everyone expects and how each member of a household deserves respect and has a right to expect respect. Also - and this is a tough one, new parameters need to be set. You are adults, not a little kid and a parent. That takes patience and daily communication. Report