7 Tips for Caring for an Elderly Parent

Aging is a fact of life, no matter how much we try to avoid it. When it comes to caring for aging parents, follow these 7 tips to make it easier for everyone.

  1. Try to respect their autonomy whenever possible. If the elderly parent has dementia, a child may need to take control of many decisions. However, try to let the parent make decisions whenever possible – even if it means putting out 2 outfits on the bed and letting them choose which one to wear. In cases where the parent has intact cognition but appears to be making poor decisions, it gets more complicated. Sometimes it is difficult to remember that elderly parents, like other adults, have the right to make their own decisions.
  2. Be mindful of driving. Driving often ends up being an area of conflict for elderly parents – they want to drive and the children think it is not safe. I recommend the family tries to stay neutral by having a third party do an examination to look at safety driving a car. Often you can find such programs at private institutions outside of the DMV.
  3. Watch out for sleep changes. If you notice a change in sleep patterns, schedule an appointment with the parent’s doctor right away. This could be a sign of depression or an underlying medical problem. Poor sleep can easily lead to poor cognition which can look like dementia.
  4. Help them stay physically active. It makes sense – getting blood flowing helps the body and the brain. Help an elderly parent think of ways they can move their body on a daily basis without pain or injury.
  5. Socialize. Research shows that socializing can help maintain brain function and social isolation can lead to depression. So help an elderly parent think about ways to socialize with others at least once a week.
  6. Attend doctor visits. Try to attend doctor visits with your elderly parent. Tell them you will take notes for them and make sure that all their questions are answered during the visits. If you are already part of the care team, when a medical issue arises it will help your parent get the best care possible.
  7. Give them purpose. We often forget that elderly parents need purpose in life, even if they are limited by their cognition and their physical health. Try to help them find activities that give them purpose, even if they are simple. Watering a plant, caring for a pet, scheduling phone calls to talk with a grandchild, volunteering: there are many different ways to find meaning and purpose!

To learn more, or to schedule an appointment, please contact our office today.

Live Mentally Healthy,
Dr. Jennie Byrne

Dr. Jennie Byrne, M.D., PhD. With over 15 years of medical expertise, Jennie Byrne, MD, PhD, is a board-certified psychiatrist with experience treating mental health conditions in adults, including dementia, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety, and depression. After practicing in New York City for 12 years, Dr. Byrne relocated to North Carolina in 2008; she currently cares for patients in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, at Cognitive Psychiatry of Chapel Hill. Dr. Byrne earned her bachelor’s degree at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. She then received her doctorate from New York University Department of Neurophysiology. She also has a doctorate of medicine from New York University School of Medicine. Dr. Byrne went on to complete a psychiatry residency at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in New York. In addition to her work as a psychiatrist, Dr. Byrne has performed extensive research on attention, memory, and depression. As a board-certified adult psychiatrist, Dr. Byrne focuses on the needs of each patient to pro

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