Adapting to your parents’ unique needs as they age can be stressful. Learning how to cope with these challenges helps you support your parents without sacrificing your well-being.

There’s a time when “being older,” is something you look forward to because of the opportunities it brings. Learning to drive, having your first date, and graduating from school are milestones on the way to adulthood.

But growing older isn’t always easy. The longer you live, the more “growing older” represents a time of aging and a natural slow-down during the senior years of your life.

When your parents enter this phase, it can be difficult for them to adjust their levels of independence. They may come off as stubborn, secretive, or argumentative. It can be stressful for everyone.

Learning ways to cope can help you continue to approach dealing with aging parents with compassion and empathy.

When you’re not a senior, it’s difficult to fully understand what your aging parents are going through and what challenges they’re facing. Learning about age-related issues can help you increase your understanding of their experiences, which can help you stay patient and empathetic.

Many older adults experience anxiety, fear, and frustration as they start to lose function or independence. Understanding that “stubbornness” in your parents might be their way of maintaining autonomy or control can help you realize these behaviors aren’t a personal attack.

Gaining insight about age-related issues can also help you be proactive about the challenges in your parents’ lives such as:

  • affording medical care
  • coordinating and getting to appointments
  • being taken advantage of due to age
  • social isolation

Gratitude is a powerful positive psychology concept. When you’re grateful, you’re mentally in a place of appreciation, optimism, and peace. By actively finding moments in your day to focus on gratitude, you can keep yourself in that positive mindset, even when caring for aging parents gets stressful.

A 2023 review of studies found acts of gratitude successfully promoted mental well-being and helped relieve symptoms of anxiety and depression.

You’re not the only one dealing with aging parents. Many other people are going through the same challenges you are, and you can all learn from one another.

By joining a support group, you gain the opportunity to share what’s working for you while also gathering new ideas to try on your own.

Whenever you’re feeling overwhelmed, put yourself in your parents’ position to help refresh your perspective.

While you might be frustrated or annoyed at the moment, how would you feel if the situation was reversed?

Would you be OK depending on someone to drive you everywhere, for example, even if you thought you were capable of driving on your own? Would you want another person dictating how you spend your day in your own home?

Aging parents may need support, but they still want to feel capable and respected. Honoring this allows you to unburden some responsibilities you might not need to carry yet.

If self-care seems like it’s recommended for everything that’s because it’s important across multiple areas of life. If you’re not taking care of yourself, you have less capacity to take care of others, including aging parents.

Self-care can be anything that promotes your physical and mental health. Stress management strategies, relaxation techniques, and physical exercise are all examples of effective self-care.

It’s natural to want to give every moment of every day to aging parents, but neglecting yourself can lead to burnout, exhaustion, or illness, leaving you less able to support them.

There are plenty of ways you can help your aging parents while still supporting their independence and autonomy.

Planning for the future

Sitting down with your parents and planning for the future can help ensure their wishes are known and carried out, especially if they reach a point in time when they’re unable to communicate or make decisions for themselves.

Planning for the future can include:

  • senior care wishes and preferences
  • appointment of a healthcare proxy
  • emergency and end-of-life medical care wishes
  • financial planning
  • living will creation
  • last will and testament arrangements

Making their home safe

Making their home safe can help your parents stay independent for as long as possible. Home safety tips for seniors include:

  • installing hand railings in halls and bathrooms
  • using bright tape or paint to mark uneven flooring
  • purchasing a bed that’s high enough to get in and out of easily
  • securing areas rugs to the floor
  • setting up charging stations in multiple convenient places
  • adding lighting to dim areas
  • adding nonslip covers on smooth floors or steps
  • placing motion-detecting lights in hallways and staircases
  • using nightlights along bathroom routes
  • placing nonslip mats in the bathtub or shower
  • keeping loose items off the ground to prevent tripping
  • installing a home security system that can be accessed by other family members
  • signing up for a medical alert system
  • having a list of emergency contacts easily accessible in each room of the house

Being active with them

Physical activity is important as you age, but it can be natural to avoid it when you have aches and pains or don’t feel as strong as you used to. Rather than hounding your parents about not getting enough exercise, consider inviting them to be active with you.

Asking your aging parents to go for a walk, for example, is an easy way to spend time together while also encouraging exercise.

Helping them feel valued while being supported

Sometimes, the way support is presented affects how receptive parents are to it. Telling them they “need” help because they can’t do it themselves, for example, can be embarrassing and demeaning even if you have the best intentions.

If you know your parents are struggling with something, consider ways to suggest the support that makes them feel valued. For example, if you know they need help with lawn care, you can tell them you’ve been looking for an excuse to get out of the house for some fresh air.

This helps them feel less like a responsibility and more like they’re helping you as well.

Aging isn’t automatically a sign your parents need support. Many seniors live independently by making minor adjustments to their daily routine.

Signs an aging parent may need more support, however, include:

  • forgetfulness that poses a safety risk, like leaving the stove burner on
  • not taking medications correctly
  • increasingly messy home
  • declining personal hygiene
  • signs of depression or anxiety
  • confusion
  • trouble walking or getting around
  • falling
  • significant memory lapses, like forgetting their address or getting lost in previously familiar places

Dealing with aging parents can be challenging, especially if they need significant support. Loss of independence, function, and autonomy can cause fear, anxiety, and frustration in aging parents that may emerge as stubbornness or argumentativeness.

Planning ahead, learning about age-related issues, and making time for self-care can help you cope during this phase of life while still finding empathetic and compassionate ways to support your parents.